Alan Johnson: Talking therapy programme not just about CBT

Health secretary Alan Johnson pledged yesterday that the government’s talking therapy programme would extend beyond cognitive behavioural therapy.

Amid fears that the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme would be dominated by the relatively short-term CBT, Johnson told a conference it would encompass all therapies approved by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence.

He said CBT would remain the “core” of the programme but that would not exclude other “equally valid” forms of therapy.

The IAPT aims to improve access to therapy for people with low-level mental health problems. The government aims to extend treatment to 900,000 people and train 3,600 new therapists over the next three years as the scheme is rolled out to half of primary care trusts. Funding will increase from £30m this year to £170m in 2010-11.

Focus on CBT criticised

However, its apparent focus on CBT has been subject to criticism, particularly from practitioners in branches of longer-term therapy.

Some have raised concerns that although CBT has a good evidence base it does not tackle a patient’s underlying issues in the same way as longer-term therapies and is not the preference of all patients.

‘Factional infighting’

Mental health tsar Louis Appleby had earlier warned delegates that “factional infighting” between different schools of therapy could “ruin” the progress of the programme.

He told the Psychological Therapies in the NHS conference that no single therapy could possibly be appropriate for all patients but stressed that the test for inclusion in IAPT was whether a therapy could demonstrate that it worked. 

Appleby also told the conference the government was working on a long-term vision for mental health to replace the ten-year National Service Framework for Mental Health, which expires next year.

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