The Society has recently been investing more time into campaigning, as the direction of travel in terms of mental health provision in the UK is more and more down the path of digitalisation, or the expansion of low-intensity, low-level roles, and this is something that we want to prevent and even reverse.
The UK’s mental health is worsening almost constantly. It was already a bleak picture prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, but since then NHS services have continued to see lengthy waiting lists, with many people leaving the service having had no real benefit and being subsequently plunged back into a situation where they have to queue for NHS Talking Therapies (previously known as IAPT) again and just hope that they have a better result next time (September 2022 33.5% of referrals finishing a course of treatment did not show reliable improvement; 40k referrals ended without being seen by the service; just over 40k referrals ended having only one treatment appointment).
Alternatively, if a person chooses not to try to access NHS Talking Therapy again, they can go the antidepressant route, or – if they’re one of the privileged few that can afford it – find a private counsellor or psychotherapist that will finally be able to offer them the therapeutic support that they needed in the first place. They may be lucky enough to live in an area where NHS commissioned services are available to take referrals from people who need something more than NHS Talking Therapies are able to offer.
Sadly, though, we are hearing from our members that these vital services working with moderate-intensity clients are being decommissioned by the NHS in favour of more services based on Psychological Wellbeing Practitioners or CBT practitioners, which we already know isn't working in the way that was hoped or intended.
Roles for counsellors within Primary Care settings such as GP Practices have long been disappearing since the advent of NHS Talking Therapies (previously known as IAPT), despite the disturbingly large body of evidence that this initiative, driven by the interests of psychology and CBT bodies and bolstered by the Government and NHS's desire for quantitative data and minimal costs above all else, isn't working quite as well as they thought it would.
Even these low-intensity roles are at risk now, though, with the recent Spring Budget announcing a significant investment into digital mental healthcare, providing first line support to people through apps and other digital means.
There is an erosion of the human element to mental health care, and an alarming disregard for the importance of a connection with a person in order to improve or remove someone's mental or emotional distress. There are bodies of research that describe how vital the connection with the therapist is for therapy to be effective; completely removing the therapist altogether is not a solution for the fact that the therapeutic environment in the NHS today does not encourage thriving relationships.
If a plant is wilting, you change the soil, give it more light, and water it. You don't just throw the plant out all together, and replace it with a fake plant. Or maybe you do, but then you don't have a plant, you have some plastic that looks like a plant but does nothing else. This is the digitalisation of therapy.
So why is the Society campaigning? We're doing this because it's important that the Government, and any subsequent Governments, are made aware of the reasons that mental health provision in the UK isn't working, and why they're needing to invest more and more money into crisis services, despite the incessant expansion of the Talking Therapies programme.
We need to make them aware that counselling and psychotherapy, with their rich history, decades of research and studies proving their efficacy, and ability to deal with not just low-intensity issues but myriad issues affecting all the different facets of humanity, are the key to unlocking mental health provision that works for everyone.
One of our key campaign messages is this: By allowing direct referrals to the 60,000+ counsellors and psychotherapists currently listed on Accredited Registers throughout the UK, 82% of which have a waiting time to first appointment of 1-2 weeks, you would drastically cut waiting times for psychological help. Patients would be able to choose their practitioner, as well as the way of working that best suits them, rather than from a very limited list of therapeutic practices. By offering a choice in mental health support, people become empowered to make decisions about their own care, which can lead to better outcomes, increased engagement, and improved mental health and well-being.
Another of our key campaign messages is similar, but centred around children and young people: especially those who need support with their mental health the most but aren't able to access it through school. This could be for a number of reasons; for example, they may be too unwell to attend school, or they may not feel comfortable accessing therapy in school itself due to worries about their peers finding out. They may belong to communities that move around a lot, or that don't tend to access the UK education system. They may be in care, which could mean moving from one foster family to another, very likely in different areas.
This ties in pretty closely to our campaign about allowing direct access to counselling for adults, because we realise that one of the main challenges is that of provision - about getting practitioners in the places that they need to be in order to be accessible to those that need support. For children and young people, there are some of the same issues - the expansion of Children's Wellbeing Practitioners (CWPs) into schools where they're unable to deal with all but the most minor of issues, and the lack of investment into the 'missing middle' - those that need more than low-intensity support, but aren't unwell enough to need support from CAMHS (yet, and if they could even access it with waiting lists being as long as they are). These are the children and young people that really need good quality therapy - if they don't get the support they need (appropriate and timely), there's a risk that things could get worse for them; we see the increasing numbers of children and young people self-harming, or attempting suicide, and this is what we could be looking at for all of those children and young people that aren't being seen or helped.
So we're asking for Access to Counselling for Every Child, with a counsellor available not just in schools, but in primary care settings and mental health hubs, as well as provision of technology such as tablets or similar to allow children and young people who need more flexibility around accessing therapy face-to-face to work with their therapist no matter where they are.
We know we're working against a desire for low-cost solutions, easy-to-read quantitative data, and the lobbying power of much larger organisations, but we believe the facts are in support of our campaign messages, and we're determined to change the hearts and minds of Government about this.
Success in these campaigns would mean a brighter future for counselling and psychotherapy, as well as the nation as a whole. And that's worth fighting for.
Please click here to read more about our campaigns.