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 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.
NHS talking therapies services are also known as Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) services.
These services are still open and accessible during coronavirus (COVID-19). 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.
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 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:
- 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 works to help us notice and challenge patterns of thoughts or behaviours so we can feel better.
- Counselling for depression – a type of counselling developed 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
- one-to-one in person, over the phone or through video consultation
- 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).
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 day-to-day life
- struggling with flashbacks and nightmares
- feeling stressed
Perhaps you're finding it hard to cope with work, life or relationships.
Other things that talking therapies can help with include:
- obsessive thoughts or behaviours
- fear of social situations
- trouble sleeping
If you've 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.
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).
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?
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.
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).
Pregnancy and new parents
If you’re feeling anxious or depressed during pregnancy or after becoming a parent you 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 have been shown to be very successful and beneficial for older people.
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: Psychological therapies for stress, anxiety and depression
Animated video explaining self-referral to psychological therapies services for stress, anxiety or depression.
Media review due: 14 March 2025