Around half the GP surgeries in England provide counselling services and support.
Access to NHS talking therapy will improve over the next few years. It's government policy to make counselling and other talking treatments, including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), more easily available on the NHS.
Free therapy on the NHS
The Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme, which is rolling out between 2008 and 2015, is putting thousands more trained therapists into GP surgeries. The scheme will provide easy access to talking treatment on the NHS to everyone who needs it.
If you want to try a talking therapy, ask your GP, who will be aware of what's available locally.
Your GP can refer you for talking treatment that is free on the NHS. This will usually be a short course of counselling or CBT from the GP surgery's counselling service.
If counselling or CBT aren't available at the surgery, your GP can refer you to a local counsellor or therapist for NHS treatment.
You may also be able to refer yourself for counselling. The IAPT programme means that more and more primary care trusts (PCTs) are introducing the option of self-referral.
Self-referral means that people who prefer not to talk to their GP can go directly to a professional therapist (but where possible, and unless there's a specific reason not to, it's better to discuss it with your GP first). The service is already available in some parts of England. To find out what's available in your area, search for psychological therapy services.
Paying for private therapy
If you can afford it, you can choose to pay for your therapy privately.
The cost of talking therapy varies and a one-hour session can cost between £40 and £100.
In the first instance, ask your GP if they can suggest a local private therapist. If you still need help, you can find a private therapist using the internet, the library or the Yellow Pages.
There are no rules governing who can advertise talking therapy services, so it’s essential to check that the therapist is listed on one of the registers of approved practitioners. Talk to several therapists before you decide which one is right for you. See You and your therapist for more advice.
The following organisations have approved therapists:
Charities that offer therapy
Some charities offer cheap or free talking therapies. These include:
- Cruse for bereavement care
- Beat for eating disorders
- Mind for mental health problems
- Relate for relationship counselling
Some employers provide counselling for their employees and many colleges and universities offer free therapy to students who need it.
If you have problems getting therapy
The availability of services varies depending on where you live. In some parts of England, especially rural areas or small towns, NHS therapy is limited. You may have to wait a long time or travel to find something suitable.
Your GP’s personal views about talking therapy can also affect your access to it. Some GPs are more likely to refer you for therapy than others. According to an online survey by the Mental Health Foundation, only 42% of people who visited their GP with depression were offered counselling, although 82% of them would have been willing to try it.
If your GP is unwilling to refer you for talking therapy, you may have to find out for yourself what’s available in your area and push hard to get it. Alternatively, you can change to another GP who's willing to refer you.
Find out more about your rights to choices in the NHS, and about the NHS complaints system.