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Computer says 'yes' to more accessible therapy

Armen Hareyan's picture

Computer-based therapy for milder, but more common mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety should be made available to any patients in England who could benefit from it from April, Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt said today.

Computerised Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (cCBT) delivers cognitive behavioural therapy - proven to be clinically effective - through a computer. Providing this therapy as a first-line treatment for people with anxiety and depression heralds a significant shift towards providing new services closer to people at home and in the community.

Over 2007/08, the establishment of cCBT in every PCT in England will be an important building block in the delivery of comprehensive psychological therapy services.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) has approved two computer-based programmes for use by the NHS - Fear Fighter for treating people who have phobias or suffer from panic attacks, and Beating the Blues for treating people with mild to moderate depression. Such programmes will enable therapy to be provided in a greater number of locations and settings, such as at home or in the library. People who receive these services will also benefit from the support of a mental health professional.

Launching cCBT Implementation Guidance that will help the NHS to deliver these innovative therapies to patients, ahead of her speech at the MIND annual conference in Bournemouth, Patricia Hewitt said:

"Mental health services have clearly improved substantially, but we want to offer patients even greater choice over how, when and where they are treated. Being able to access the right kind of therapy, instead of just being prescribed medication, is central to this vision for patients.

"On April 1st, we will reach the first milestone in our drive to provide choice - namely quicker access to computer based self-help services to stop mild mental health problems becoming worse.

"Clinical evidence confirms that counselling and therapy are just as effective as medication in helping to treat most cases of depression. The guidance being published today will give the NHS the information they need to provide these services.

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"In addition to continuing to improve services for people with severe mental health problems, we are working to improve the mental wellbeing of society as a whole, and providing a real, twenty-first century service for people with common mental health needs such as anxiety and depression."

Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of MIND said:

"Computerised Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is an important addition to the range of treatment options available for people who suffer from mild depression or anxiety. It will bring therapy to the doorstep of users making it convenient and easy to access especially for people who live in remote locations. Its immediacy will benefit people who have been waiting months or even years to see a therapist."

"However, this method of delivery will not suit everyone. It is important that there is a choice of options."

Dr Peter Crouch, a GP and Forensic Medical Examiner at the Taw Hill Medical Practice in Swindon said:

"We have been using computerised Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for over three years and the feedback by our patients is extremely positive.

"Our patients have found that using "The Relief Series" and "Beating the Blues" has significantly helped them to better cope with anxiety, insomnia and stress. Using the system has amplified the ability of our award winning local psychology service in Wiltshire to provide tangible and practical help and psychological support to those who need it.

"Very few services are able to be delivered within a few minutes of a consultation and in the patient's own home. We have patients who have logged in from work, home and anywhere they can access the internet. As we have many patients who travel, some have logged in from halfway around the world to continue the programme of support."

Last year, the Government announced the establishment of two improving access to psychological therapy (IAPT) demonstration sites in Doncaster and Newham. The programme's core purpose is to develop: evidence of the benefits of psychological therapies; service models on how evidence based services should be implemented nationwide; and incentives to enable the local NHS to deliver the new services.