Twelve years ago, David Clark, a professor of psychology at Oxford University in England, and Richard Layard, an economist and member of the House of Lords, came up with an unprecedented idea: providing free talk therapy to citizens struggling with their mental health.
Three years later, in 2008, this idea was realized. With 40 million dollars funding it, the program set up 35 clinics across England, and trained 1,000 mental health professionals. Since then, the program has expanded even further, with a budget of 500 million dollars.
Today, this program provides “virtually open-ended talk therapy free of charge at clinics throughout the country: in remote farming villages, industrial suburbs, isolated immigrant communities and high-end enclaves” (Carey 2017, p.2). Ideally, the program will continue to expand beyond England and throughout all of Great Britain.
Statistics support the good the program has done over its nine years in place. Putting stress on its budget, it screens nearly one million people a year, and the number of adults in England who receive mental health treatment has jumped from one in three to one in four, with expectations to climb even higher. The program has also decreased the country’s stigma around mental health, integrating it into the cultural conversation and making its treatment a readily available resource, rather than a daunting one, shrouded in confusion.
The screening for the program consists of a call between an individual and their local clinic. After the individual reaches out to the clinic, they receive a phone call that acts as an “hourlong evaluation to determine how safe the new client is, how desperate and why” (Carey 2017, p.20).
This evaluation also helps staff members called ‘well being practitioners’ decide if the individual would simply benefit from low-intensity phone therapy, or if they require group or one-on-one therapy. Such a process makes the program more regimented than entry into typical therapy; it saves the majority of its time and money for those grappling with more crippling issues.
The program also monitors the progress of its clients in a standardized way that is atypical for talk therapy. Each week, clients anonymously fill out surveys for anxiety and depression. These surveys are then logged in a government database to track the well being of the program’s patients. This data has shown, thus far, that the recovery rate of those benefiting from at least two weeks of the program is at 50 percent.
Another way the program favors a standard rather than the usual diversity required in mental health treatment is the kind of treatment offered; so far, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT, is being offered far more than other treatments or therapies that focus on individual nuances of mental illnesses rather than the broad, short-term relational focus of CBT.
However, despite these factors that some critics are calling into question, demand for the program is high. Therapists are “juggling 25 clients at a time,” and the average wait for a course of therapy is 31 days (Carey, 2017.)
To those that are facing longer wait times to get in the door, online resources are being offered. Some clinics, like the one in Buckinghamshire, are also making patient needs a priority despite the standards laid out. The director there, John Pimm, recognized that he could “strikingly raise recovery rates by having his therapists give some patients two or three extra sessions; and by extending call times for phone therapy, working more carefully at the critical junctures, when people begin, or end, therapy” (Carey 2017, p.46).
Overall, the program has done the country documented good, and its supporters are looking to its improvements and expansions in the future.
For more on this topic please read, “England’s Mental Health Experiment: Free Talk Therapy.”
Carey, B. (2017, July 24). England’s Mental Health Experiment: Free Talk Therapy. Retrieved July 27, 2017, from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/24/health/england-mental-health-treatment-therapy.html