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The Tavistock Centre for Couple Relationships is today publishing the report of an investigation it has carried out on the availability of couple therapy for depression in Improving Access to Psychological Therapies services.

The data presented in this report (A drop in the ocean: couple therapy for depression in IAPT ­­) was gathered via a Freedom of Information request to all clinical commissioning groups and mental health trusts, and a ‘mystery shopping’ exercise conducted with 20 IAPT services.

Responses to the Freedom of Information request show that only 0.62% of all therapy sessions delivered at the high intensity (Step 3) level in IAPT services were couple therapy. This equates to just one in every 161 sessions delivered, a figure which TCCR believes to be significantly lower than the actual need for such an intervention.

The ‘mystery shopping’ exercise of 20 IAPT services across the country – in which an agency played the role of a relative of a woman who is feeling depressed, has been made redundant and who is having a lot of rows with their partner – found worrying low levels of appropriate knowledge among IAPT staff about couple treatment which is supposed to be part of the range of NICE-recommended treatments. The exercise also indicated there was inappropriate sign-posting by IAPT services to other agencies.

While responses from mental health trusts to the freedom of information request suggest that a small number are now in the process of making couple therapy for depression available, the results of this investigation indicate that provision of this intervention is very on the whole very limited and, when it is available, is being received by very few couples.

Susanna Abse, couple therapist and Chief Executive of the Tavistock Centre for Couple Relationships, comments: “It is a great shame that only one in every 161 sessions delivered by IAPT services are couple therapy for depression. Research studies, our own clinical services and plain common sense all point to the conclusion that the provision is not meeting the underlying need. This is probably a combination of missed diagnosis, ignorance and lack of availability. It is time that the Department of Health, as well as commissioners and providers, began to recognise the links between relationship distress and depression, and commission this intervention accordingly. We know timely, expert couple therapy has the power to transform the lives not only of the person with depression but also entire families."


Notes to editors:

  • Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) services deliver NICE-recommended treatment to people with depression and anxiety through the NHS.
  • Couple therapy for depression is the NICE-recommended treatment for mild to moderate depression where there is a distressed couple relationship that appears to be a factor in instigating, maintaining or re-precipitating the depressive symptoms in one partner.
  • For more information about the report – A drop in the ocean: couple therapy for depression in IAPT ­­– contact Richard Meier, Policy Manager at TCCR, on 0207 380 1964/07973 444061 or rmeier@tccr.org.uk