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 understand and cope with 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 some 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 without a referral from a GP.
NHS psychological therapies services are also known as Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) services.
If you prefer, see a GP and they can refer you and share relevant information about you.
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 might include 5 to 20 sessions, with each session lasting 30 to 60 minutes.
CBT has been shown to work for a variety of mental health problems, including:
- panic disorder
- obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
- post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- some eating disorders, such as bulimia
CBT is available on the NHS for people with depression, anxiety disorders and other mental and physical health problems that it's been proven to help.
Read more about talking therapies on the NHS.
There are also self-help therapies like books and computer courses based on CBT to help you overcome common problems like depression.
Guided self-help is recommended as a treatment for some types of depression, anxiety, panic disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).
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, online or phone appointments.
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:
- have some types of depression
- are struggling to cope a recent life event, like a bereavement
- are having fertility problems
Counselling on the NHS may be offered as a single session or a course of sessions over a period of weeks or months.
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 NHS psychological therapies services (IAPT).
It's usually offered to people who have mild to moderate depression and have already tried other therapies, such as guided self-help, or other therapies are not suitable for them.
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 mild to moderate depression that hasn't responded to other talking therapies, such as CBT.
IPT is usually offered for 16 to 20 sessions.
Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR)
EMDR is a 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 the negative images, emotions and physical feelings they cause have less impact.
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.
MBCT is used to help prevent depression coming back, and to help some types of anxiety and stress.
MBCT combines mindfulness techniques like meditation and breathing exercises with cognitive therapy, which is about learning how to manage your thoughts and how they make you feel.
Read more about mindfulness.
Psychodynamic psychotherapy looks at how childhood experiences and thoughts you're not aware of (your subconscious mind) affect your thinking, feelings, relationships and behaviour today.
You talk to a therapist, one-on-one, about your thoughts and feelings. This type of talking therapy may be offered for around 16 sessions.
Short-term psychodynamic psychotherapy (STPP) may be offered on the NHS to people who have depression or depression plus a long-term health condition.
Couple therapy can help people who have depression that may be linked to problems in their relationship with their partner. It's sometimes called behavioural couple therapy (BCT) or couple therapy for depression (CTfD).
Couple therapy usually includes 15 to 20 sessions over 5 to 6 months.
It may be offered by an IAPT service if other therapies, like CBT, have not helped. Your partner will need to be willing to go through therapy with you.
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