Discover how you can access therapy through the NHS, voluntary sector or privately.
It can be a big step to begin the search for talking therapy when you’re going through a difficult time.
You might not know where to start your search because there are many different routes to accessing therapy. While the range of options offers hope of finding the right support, it can also feel overwhelming if you’re feeling vulnerable and struggling to cope.
Finding therapy is a journey itself. Sometimes it can take a few attempts to find the right therapy and therapist for you. But when you do, it can have a transformative impact on your mental health, your quality of life and your sense of self.
The NHS is where most people in the UK access healthcare and is the first port of call for many people seeking therapy. Importantly, it is free to access.
You will usually have to wait to be seen – from four to up to 18 weeks, or even longer – which can feel disheartening if you’re distressed.
There’s also a chance that you might not get the most suitable talking therapy for you because some types of therapy are much more likely to be offered than others. But a choice of therapies should be available in most parts of the country, so it’s important to know what you can ask for.
Your first point of call when you’re going through a difficult time emotionally, might be to talk to your GP to tell them that you want to have therapy. They may be able to refer you to psychotherapists or counsellors in your GP practice. In some cases, they may refer you straight to NHS secondary care services for more specialised mental health care. However, they will most likely refer you to your local area’s mental health support service who will assess you to decide what type of therapy they can offer.
In England, the service you are likely to be referred to is called Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT). You can also refer yourself to this service, without going through your GP.
In Wales, your GP will need to refer you to your Local Primary Mental Health Support Service. In Scotland, your GP will refer you to a local NHS board. In Northern Ireland the GP referral will be to a regional Health and Social Care Trust.
If you have been diagnosed with a mental health condition, you will probably be referred to a secondary care service, such as a community mental health team or a clinic in a hospital.
You can refer yourself to NHS IAPT services in your local area. To access talking therapies you will need to be registered with a GP. Information on this and how to refer yourself to IAPT services locally can be found on the NHS website.
Your GP, or the mental health service you are referred to, will assess what support you need by asking you to fill out some forms. It’s important that when you fill these out, you base your answers on how you are when you feel at your worst. This will mean you are more likely to get the therapy you need.
What therapy you’re offered on the NHS, and for how long, will vary depending on where you live and what support you need.
The most widely available form of talking therapy for most people accessing mental healthcare via the NHS is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), which can be delivered in a range of different forms including one to one, as part of a group, by video call or telephone, and digitally through a computer programme.
While CBT is a very effective intervention for some people in some situations, it is not a one-size-fits-all solution. For example, while CBT can very effectively target the ‘symptoms’ of mental health issues, other forms of psychotherapy may be better suited to address the root causes and deliver positive outcomes in the longer term.
It is important to remember that you have a say in your care. If you know from the outset that you would prefer a model of therapy that focuses more on the root causes of your distress, or the way your relationships with other people have shaped your mental health, then you can ask for a specific type of therapy.
In England, some or all of the following types of therapy should be available in most NHS talking therapy services:
It is also important to remember that if you have been through a course of NHS therapy that didn’t work for you, you can ask for an alternative.
If you’re looking for free or low-cost psychotherapy and want to avoid the NHS waiting list to see someone, searching what’s available through charities might be a good idea. Your GP may be able to direct you to local organisations offering this support. Not all GPs may have knowledge of all local services, so it can be worth following up again with another doctor.
Some therapy is available through nationwide charities. Other support may be from local organisations. It’s important to check that the therapist you see is a member of a professional body, such as UKCP.
You could do an internet search to find local charities near you that offer therapy free or low-cost therapy. Below are examples of three local charities offering counselling and psychotherapy.
There are some other routes to finding a therapist that you may not have yet explored.
You normally need to pay for private therapy. Sessions range from £40 to over £100, depending on where you live. Some psychotherapists and counsellors offer lower rates for students and people on low incomes. Often, therapists will include details of this on their online directory profile or website.
Benefits of private therapy include that you:
UKCP has a national register of psychotherapists and psychotherapeutic counsellors. It only includes practitioners who meet our exacting standards, robust training requirements and abide by our ethical and professional code.
You can also use other directories to find psychotherapists or psychotherapeutic counsellors in private practice. If you use other directories, make sure the therapists are registered with a professional body, such as UKCP.
As well as one-to-one or group psychotherapy, other support is available that may help to improve your mental health.
Adfam – Lists local and online support groups for family members and friends tackling the effects of alcohol, drugs or gambling.
Anti-Bullying Alliance – Offers advice for parents whose children are being bullied as well as people being bullied at work or who have been bullied in the past.
Citizens Advice – Advice on everything from money problems to legal issues and housing.
Crisis – Support, including information on benefits, for people who are experiencing homelessness to rebuild their lives.
Gamblers Anonymous – Runs regular local meetings for people who have a problem with gambling.
FRANK – Substance abuse charity with a directory of local drug treatment services.
Mind – A charity with lots of useful information about coping with mental health problems and getting help.
Shelter – Runs a helpline for people who are homeless or worried about losing their home. The charity also has local services that help with this.
If you or someone you know needs urgent mental health support, the following can help.
Accident and emergency department of your local hospital – Staff should refer you to a psychiatry service or local crisis resolution and home treatment team (CRHT).
Local NHS urgent mental health helpline – In England, you can call this 24-hour NHS helpline if you need urgent help or someone you care for does.
Samaritans – Offers a 24-hour free helpline to discuss thoughts of suicide, as well as other mental health problems. Call 116 123.
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