Talking therapies, or psychological therapies, are effective and confidential treatments delivered by fully trained and accredited NHS practitioners. They can help if you're struggling with things like feelings of depression, excessive worry, social anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
You can access talking therapies for free on the NHS.
You can refer yourself directly to an NHS talking therapies service without a referral from a GP, or a GP can refer you.
Help is available in person, by video, over the phone or as an online course.
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.
Important: Urgent help in a crisis
If you or a loved one are having 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.
What can talking therapies help with?
You do not need to have a diagnosed mental health problem to refer yourself to an NHS talking therapies service.
Getting support as soon as you start having difficulties can help to reduce their impact.
You may be:
- feeling anxious
- feeling low and hopeless
- having panic attacks
- finding it hard to cope with work, life or relationships
- struggling with flashbacks and nightmares about things from your past
- feeling stressed
Other things that talking therapies can help with include:
- worrying a lot
- obsessive thoughts or behaviours
- fear social situations
- being afraid of things, such as spiders, flying or heights (phobias)
Talking therapies can also help if you have mental health problems resulting from other conditions, such as diabetes, cancer, long-term pain or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
If you've already been diagnosed with a mental health condition you can still refer yourself to an NHS talking therapies service, or a GP can refer you.
Types of talking therapies
There are a range of evidence-based talking therapies. Which therapy you are offered depends on which one has been shown to be most helpful for your symptoms.
Examples of talking therapies include:
- guided self-help – where a therapist coaches you as you work through a self-help course in your own time, either using a workbook or an online course
- cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) – based on the idea that thoughts, feelings, what we do, and how our bodies feel physically, are all connected. CBT helps you notice and challenge thoughts or behaviours to help you feel better. There are different types of CBT, for example CBT for social anxiety is different to CBT for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- counselling for depression – a type of counselling developed for people with depression
- interpersonal therapy (IPT) or dynamic interpersonal therapy (DIT) – therapies that look at the link between your depression and your relationships
Talking therapies are offered in different ways, including:
- using a self-help workbook with the support of a therapist
- as an online course
- one-to-one sessions either in person, over the phone or as a video consultation
- in a group
What happens when you refer yourself
- Contact your local NHS talking therapies 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?
Anyone who is registered with a GP can 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. Talking therapies are also available in British Sign Language (BSL) through SignHealth Psychological Therapy Service.
Some services offer treatment for young people aged from 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.
Pregnancy and new parents
If you’re feeling anxious or depressed during pregnancy or after becoming a parent you can also access NHS talking therapies services.
Talk to your midwife, healthcare worker or GP about your mental health, or you can refer yourself to an NHS talking therapies service online.
Talking therapies have been shown to be very successful and beneficial for older people.
Does my GP need to know?
Talking therapies services normally let your GP know that you are getting support. Your talking therapy team will explain what information will be shared confidentially with your GP and why this is important.
If there is anyone else you would like your information to be shared with, or if you have any concerns about what will be shared, talk to your therapy team.
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.
Video: Talking therapies for anxiety and depression
Animated video explaining self-referral to talking therapies services for anxiety or depression.
Media review due: 14 March 2025