Talking therapies, or psychological therapies, are effective and confidential treatments delivered by fully trained and accredited NHS practitioners. They can help with common mental health problems like stress, anxiety and depression.
You can access talking therapies on the NHS.
A GP can refer you, or you can refer yourself directly to an NHS psychological therapies service (IAPT) without a referral from a GP.
NHS talking therapies services are also known as Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) services. These services are still open and accessible during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Urgent help in a crisis
If you or a loved one are experiencing a mental health crisis, you can call a local NHS mental health helpline for 24-hour advice and support:
You can call for yourself, your child, your parent or someone you care for.
If someone's life is at risk or they cannot be kept safe, call 999 or go to A&E.
There are also simple steps you can take to look after your mental health.
The Every Mind Matters website offers expert advice to help improve your wellbeing, as well as practical tips on sleep, coping with money worries and self-care.
What are talking therapies?
Talking therapies can help with common mental health problems like stress, anxiety and depression.
Which therapy you are offered depends on which one has been shown to be most helpful for your symptoms.
Here are a few examples:
- Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) – a family of talking therapies all based on the idea that thoughts, feelings, what we do, and how our bodies feel, are all connected. CBT works to help us notice and challenge patterns of thoughts or behaviours so we can feel better.
- Guided self-help – where a therapist supports you as you work through a self-help course in your own time, either using a workbook or an online course.
- Counselling for depression – a type of counselling developed specially for people with depression.
Talking therapies are offered in different ways, including:
- using a self-help workbook with the support of a therapist
- as an online course
- over the phone
- in a group
What can talking therapies help with?
You do not need to have a diagnosed mental health problem to refer yourself to an NHS psychological therapies service (IAPT).
You may be:
- having panic attacks
- struggling with flashbacks and nightmares
- feeling low and hopeless
Perhaps you're finding it hard to cope with work, life or relationships.
Other things that talking therapies can help with include:
- constant worrying
- obsessive thoughts or behaviours
- fear of social situations
- constant worry about your health
If you have already been diagnosed with a mental health condition, you can still refer yourself to an NHS psychological therapies service (IAPT), or a GP can refer you.
What happens when you refer yourself
- Contact your local NHS psychological therapies (IAPT) service.
- Someone from the service will get in touch, usually within a few weeks.
- They'll ask for more details about the problems you're having. This is known as an assessment.
- If the service thinks they can help you, they'll recommend a therapy for you. This is based on your symptoms and how severe they are.
- Waiting times for the first session vary. The service will tell you what to expect.
While you wait for your assessment or therapy to start, you can access expert advice and practical tips on the Every Mind Matters website.
Who can have talking therapies on the NHS?
You need to be registered with a GP to get talking therapies on the NHS, but you do not need a referral from a GP.
If your first language is not English, talking therapies can be delivered in your chosen language through multi-lingual therapists or confidential translators.
You need to be aged 18 or over. Some services offer treatment for young people aged 16 and 17, but you need to check this with individual services.
Children and young people who are not able to access adult talking therapies can get support with mental and emotional problems from their local children and young people's mental health service (CYPMHS).
Pregnant women and new mothers
Pregnant women and new mothers who experience anxiety and depression can also access NHS psychological therapies services.
Talk to your midwife, healthcare worker or GP about your mental health, or you can refer yourself to an NHS psychological therapies service online.
Talking therapies are also available for older people. These therapies have been shown to be very successful and beneficial for older people.
Read more about IAPT and mental health in older people on the Age UK website.
Does my GP have to know?
A talking therapies service will not contact your GP without your permission, unless they believe you're at risk of harming yourself or other people.
Talking therapies are delivered in confidence.
Other places that offer free help
Some employers provide free counselling for their employees. Ask your HR department.
Most colleges and universities offer free counselling to students who need it. Read a blog about what to do if you're a student and it's all getting too much from Professor Prathiba Chitsabesan, National Clinical Director for Children and Young People’s Mental Health.
Some charities offer helplines, cheap or free talking therapies or group support. Read more about getting support from a mental health charity.
You can also find mental health apps and tools in the NHS apps library.
Video: psychological therapies for stress, anxiety and depression
Animated video explaining self-referral to psychological therapies services for stress, anxiety or depression.
Media review due: 5 September 2021
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Page last reviewed: 28 August 2018
Next review due: 28 August 2021