Talking therapies are psychological treatments for mental and emotional problems like stress, anxiety and depression.
There are lots of different types of talking therapy, but they all involve working with a trained therapist.
This may be one-to-one, in a group, online, over the phone, with your family, or with your partner.
The therapist helps you find answers to the problems you're having.
For some problems and conditions, one type of talking therapy may be better than another.
Different talking therapies also suit different people.
Talking therapies on the NHS
You can get talking therapies like counselling for depression and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) on the NHS.
You can refer yourself directly to an NHS psychological therapies service (IAPT) without a referral from a GP.
If you prefer, see your GP and they can refer you and share relevant information about you.
Psychological therapies services are also known as Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) services.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
The aim of CBT is to help you explore and change how you think about your life, and free yourself from unhelpful patterns of behaviour.
You set goals with your therapist and may carry out tasks between sessions.
A course usually involves around 12 to 20 sessions.
CBT has been shown to work for a variety of mental health problems, including:
- panic attacks
- obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
- post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- some eating disorders, especially bulimia
CBT is available on the NHS for people with depression, anxiety disorders and other mental health problems that it's been proven to help.
Read more about talking therapies on the NHS.
There are also self-help books and computer courses based on CBT to help you overcome common problems like depression.
Guided self-help is recommended as a treatment for depression, anxiety and panic disorder.
With guided self-help you work through a CBT-based workbook or computer course with the support of a therapist.
The therapist works with you to understand your problems and make positive changes in your life.
Guided self-help aims to give you helpful tools and techniques that you can carry on using after the course has finished.
During the course your therapist will support you with face-to-face appointments or phone calls.
See some more self-help therapies.
Counselling is a talking therapy where you talk in confidence to a counsellor. They help you find ways to deal with difficulties in your life.
You may be offered counselling on the NHS if, for example, you:
- are struggling to cope with a long-term condition
- have chronic pain
- have an addiction
- are having fertility problems
Counselling on the NHS usually consists of 6 to 12 sessions.
Read more about counselling.
Counselling for depression
Counselling for depression has been specially developed to help people understand the underlying causes of their depression.
Counselling for depression is available through psychological therapies services.
It's usually offered to people who have mild to moderate depression and have already tried other therapies, such as guided self-help.
Behavioural activation is a talking therapy that aims to help people with depression take simple, practical steps towards enjoying life again.
It may be offered one-to-one or in a group with regular meetings or phone calls with a therapist.
The aim is to give you the motivation to make small, positive changes in your life.
You'll also learn problem-solving skills to help you tackle problems that are affecting your mood.
You'll usually be offered about 16 to 20 sessions.
Interpersonal therapy (IPT)
IPT is a talking treatment that helps people with depression identify and address problems in their relationships with family, partners and friends.
The idea is that poor relationships with people in your life can leave you feeling depressed.
Depression can in turn make your relationships with other people worse.
You may be offered IPT if you have severe depression or depression that hasn't responded to other talking therapies, such as CBT.
IPT is usually offered over 16 to 20 sessions.
Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR)
EMDR is another talking therapy that's been developed to help people who have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
People who have PTSD may experience intrusive thoughts, memories, nightmares or flashbacks of traumatic events in their past.
EMDR helps the brain reprocess memories of the traumatic event so you can let go of them.
EMDR can be a distressing process, so it's important to have a good support network of family and friends around you if you plan to try it.
A course of treatment is likely to be 8 to 12 sessions.
Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT)
Mindfulness-based therapies help you focus on your thoughts and feelings as they happen moment by moment.
They can be used to help treat depression and addiction.
Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) combines mindfulness techniques like meditation and breathing exercises with cognitive therapy.
MBCT is one of the options that may be offered to you after a course of treatment for depression to help stop it coming back.
Read more about mindfulness.
You can 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
Page last reviewed: 28 August 2018
Next review due: 28 August 2021