1.69 million people referred to talking therapies last year

Mental Health

Latest report finds that the number of people being referred to talking therapies was up 5.7% from the previous year

One in four people will experience mental health problems at some point in their lives. And yet, despite its commonality, reaching out for help can often be a tricky first step.

But according to this year’s Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme annual report, more people than before are accessing talking therapies and moving on with their recovery journeys.

The report – which covers a range of demographics, including age and ethnic groups – found that between 1 April 2019 and 31 March 2020, 1.69 million people were referred to talking therapies, up 5.7% from 1.60 million between 2018 and 2019. That said, of the 1.69 million referrals, 1.17 million people actually began treatment – though this number is a 6.7% improvement on the 1.09 million people who began treatment in the previous period.


What are talking therapies?

Talking therapies are treatments for mental health problems that involve working with a trained therapist to work through your experiences, and to help you live a healthier and happier life.

Talking therapies may be one-to-one, in a group or with a partner, and – with social distancing measures to consider – many counsellors are now offering sessions over the phone or online.

Cognitive behavioural therapy, behavioural activation, interpersonal therapy, EMDR, and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy are all examples of talking therapies, and depending on the need and the severity of the problem, people may be drawn to one over the other.


Waiting times for mental health support is an often contentious topic that causes many to feel frustrated and let down by mental health services. The report found that 87.4% of people started their treatment within six weeks of referral, a number that has fallen by 2% since 2018. This number is still above the NHS national standard that dictates that 75% of people referred to IAPT services should begin their treatment within this timeframe.

With a look to the future, of those who completed their courses of talking therapy, 51.1% moved to recovery – meaning that if they were defined as a ‘clinical case’ at the beginning of their treatment, they were not by the end.

Overall, this report is an interesting look at the functionality of NHS mental health services in the UK. And while it highlights certain areas that may need further assessment, there is some reassurance to be found in the fact that many people are being referred on to get the support that they need.

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