A Brief Introduction to Therapy

Therapy – or, more specifically in the case of mental health, talking therapy – is a type of psychological treatment available on the NHS for people with mental health conditions. There are many types of talking therapy, and some are better for treating certain conditions than others.

What therapy options are there?

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a means of breaking unhelpful thought and behaviour patterns through talking about them, and is recommended for depressionanxiety, panic attacks, phobiasOCDPTSD and some eating disorders. It focuses on daily challenges and enables the person dealing with the thoughts and behaviours to break them down into smaller, more manageable issues. CBT focuses on current events, rather than past triggers and usually lasts for around 20 weekly sessions.

CBT can also be undertaken from home, using a self-help guide, for example. Its prescriptive structure lends itself well to an independent approach to therapy, which may be favourable for some patients who are less mobile, or have busy schedules that may not accommodate set, weekly appointments as well.

Depression and addiction can be treated with a specific type of CBT called mindfulness-based cognitive behavioural therapy (MCBT). This style of CBT combines the discussions of thought and behaviour patterns with meditation and breathing exercises. Mindfulness has been shown to help a person enjoy their life more by paying more attention to the present moment. Another advantage of mindfulness more generally is that it can be done independently via an app or online video.

Counselling is a talking therapy which involves talking while a trained therapist listens and offers non-judgemental support for the emotional issue in question. By talking through thoughts and feelings, someone can come to better understand their issue(s) and develop coping strategies and actions to overcome them. Counselling can take place in a group or one-on-one and can help someone deal with the following mental or emotional issues:

  • Depression and anxiety
  • Infertility, or other long-term health conditions
  • Life events such as a bereavement, redundancy or break-up
  • Difficulties with self-acceptance, such as relating to gender or sexuality.

Both CBT and talking therapies can generally be accessed through group therapy as well. Some people find the supportive nature of a group the right forum for them.  

Different therapies help in different ways. In addition to CBT, MCBT, or general counselling, the NHS might offer a patient:

  • Interpersonal therapy (IPT) – usually for depression when CBT has not worked. This focuses on addressing the issues in a patient’s relationships with family and friends that may be partially responsible for their depression.
  • Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR) – for PTSD, to allow the person to reprocess the traumatic memories through discussing them with a therapist, in order to let go of them. It usually lasts around 10 sessions.

How do I access therapies? 

Anyone in England can go via their GP in order to discuss a referral to an NHS psychological therapies service (IAPT), or this service can be contacted directly. Some employers provide an employee assistance programme or health insurance which offers a certain number of counselling sessions. 

Before therapy begins, the clinician (whether a GP or specialist psychologist or psychiatrist) will conduct an assessment. These assessments are conducted on the patient’s terms and a chaperone (such as a family member or friend) can attend for support. They aim to determine which type of therapy might work for the symptoms the patient is experiencing. Recommended treatments are always open for discussion and the patient should have a say in what they feel will work best for them too.

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