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Press release: Psychological therapists now better equipped to aim the one in four Brits prescribed psychiatric drugs

December 4, 2019

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Prescription of psychiatric drugs has nearly doubled over the past twenty years with over 20% of the adult UK population being prescribed a psychiatric drug last year.

Following Public Health England’s acknowledgment of the growing problem of prescribed drug dependency and withdrawal in its recent ground-breaking report, new guidance published today gives psychological therapists the information they need to help clients struggling with side effects and withdrawal issues which have resulted from a boom in the prescription of psychiatric drugs.

Guidance for Psychological Therapists: Enabling conversations with clients taking or withdrawing from prescribed psychiatric drugs, published today, is endorsed by the four major psychological therapy organisations (representing over 80,000 UK’s psychologists, psychotherapists and counsellors). The guidance means clients will be better supported to understand the difference between emotional distress, relapse and the side and withdrawal effects of psychiatric drugs.

While some experience drugs as helpful, they never deal with the underlying social and/or psychological causes of distress. Adverse drug effects can potentially cause long-term harm to individuals. Most psychological therapists now work with clients who have taken, or are taking, psychiatric drugs. Currently fewer than one in ten feel their training equipped them to deal adequately with client’s questions.

Dr James Davies, Roehampton University academic, qualified psychotherapist and Guidance co-editor and author, commented:

‘PHE and NICE have finally acknowledged that antidepressant withdrawal can be severe and protracted – lasting for many weeks, and in some cases, months and beyond. Many such reactions have been misread as relapse by doctors, with drugs being reinstated, and little or no withdrawal support offered. This guidance indicates how therapists can identify withdrawal and support their clients. It is gratifying that our national therapeutic organisations, through this guidance, are taking their share of responsibility for addressing this nationwide problem.

‘In addition to offering such support, we now need to address our over-prescribing problem; significantly increasing our provision for social and psychological alternatives, including longer-term therapies.’

Paul Sams, a service user who was prescribed psychiatric medications for over ten years, commented:

‘For ten years I was often required to withdraw to start new medication, this was always with little to no support or advice. I am pleased that this guidance is an opportunity to support sharing of relevant information that promotes informed choice through collaborative decision making. I am hopeful that the move will support those following me on their recovery journey to have a better experience than I encountered.’

The guidance, facilitated by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Prescribed Drug Dependence in the last parliament, has been steered and endorsed by the four psychological therapy organisations that represent 80,000 of the UK’s psychological therapists, and by senior clinicians and researchers in the field. They are the British Psychological Society, UK Council for Psychotherapy, British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy and National Counselling Society. The National Survivor User Network has also endorsed the guidance.

In the UK, it is now widely acknowledged that the incidence, severity and duration of withdrawal effects, and the extent to which those people affected need support, was underestimated. Relevant organisations are therefore now considering how best to support people who have suffered harm. Public Health England has recommended a helpline, better training for doctors on appropriate withdrawal management, and more support for GPs; recommendations now supported by the Royal College of General Practitioners, the Royal College of Psychiatrists, the British Medical Association and all the organisations involved in the creation of the guidance published today.

Guidance for Psychological Therapists: Enabling conversations with clients taking or withdrawing from prescribed psychiatric drugs is available online at www.prescribeddrug.info/ from 4 December.


Notes for Editors

About Public Health England (PHE):

In a recent report, Public Health England (PHE) found that, for the last ten years, more people are being prescribed more of these medicines and often for longer. The prescribing of some of these medicines (like benzodiazepines and opioids) has fallen recently but others (such as gabapentin, pregabalin and antidepressants) are being prescribed more and for longer. This means more people are at risk of becoming addicted to them or having problems when they stop using them. It also costs the NHS significant amounts of money, some of which is wasted because the medicines do not work for everyone all the time, especially if they are used for too long. Full link to the report: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/prescribed-medicines-review-report/prescribed-medicines-review-what-this-report-means-for-patients

About the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Prescribed Drug Dependence in the last parliament:

It was formed in 2015 to address the growing problem of prescribed drug dependence (PDD). Chaired by Oliver Letwin MP, the APPG’s aim was to demand appropriate services for those affected, proper training for medical professionals, reduced prescribing through adherence to new and existing guidelines, better data regarding the prevalence of PDD and more research into long-term harms associated with PDD. See link: http://prescribeddrug.org


Data sources:

  • Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) (2018) statistics care of Hansard: Prescriptions drugs – written question– 128871.
  • Proportion of the UK on prescription drugs: Kendrick, T. (2015). Long-term antidepressant treatment: Time for a review? Prescriber, 26 (19), 7–8.
  • A survey of 1,200 practising therapists in 2019 revealed that the majority felt ill-equipped to manage such issues in the therapeutic setting, with 93.1% reporting they would find it ‘useful’ or ‘very useful’ to have guidance to help them work more confidently with people either taking or withdrawing from psychiatric drugs.

For interview enquiries and more information, please contact:

Claudia Moselhi on 07521 975756 or claudia@clopr.co.uk.


For additional expert quotes please see below:

Professor Rosemary Rizq from the University of Roehampton, co-editor and author, said:

‘Therapists need evidence-based information about the main classes of psychiatric drugs, how they are understood to work, their potential impact on therapeutic work and their potential and likelihood for dependence.  That’s what we’ve provided in this guidance so they can support their clients better.’

Dr Anne Guy, accredited psychotherapist, co-editor and author, added:

‘It provides psychological therapists with key questions to consider in how information about medications relates to therapeutic work, such as how to navigate key ethical considerations and how to help support clients experiencing withdrawal effects, whilst remaining supportive of relationships with prescribers.’

Dr John Read, Professor of Clinical Psychology, University of East London, and co-author said:

‘After being involved with these issues for 40 years I am delighted to finally see psychologists, therapists and counsellors being urged to get properly involved, in an informed, ethical, evidence-based manner, in what is a central issue in the lives of so many of our clients.’

Professor Sarah Niblock, Chief Executive of the UK Council for Psychotherapy, said:

‘This Guidance is timely and very much welcomed. It not only provides therapists with deeper knowledge of these medications but will enable them to discuss confidently issues that are often central to the emotional distress that people they are working with are experiencing. It constitutes another important step in improving the care for the alarming number of people currently being prescribed psychiatric medication.’


You can find further information about the guidance here.

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