Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy
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Counselling shortage solution unveilled [15/02/18]

Plan similar to the Counselling for Depression (DfD) model used in Britain’s NHS

The Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (IACP) has unveilled a 'Proven, cost-effective solution' to counselling waiting lists in the community. The IACP proposes a partnership programme with the State, similar to the Counselling for Depression (DfD) model used in Britain’s NHS. The plan was discussed with the Oireachtas Committee on the Future of Mental Health. 

View Committee proceedings (starts at 38 minutes):


The Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (IACP) submission to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Future of Mental Health Care 

A cross-party vision for future mental health care in Ireland with analysis under three high-level themes:  (1) Primary Care (2) Recruitment and (3) Funding  

Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy

Ref: FOMHC-is-12

January 2018


Executive Summary                                     3

Primary care                                                 4

Regulatory change                                      7

Counselling for Depression (CfD)               8

The UK Experience                                       9

Recruitment                                               11

Funding / Accessibility                              12         

Appendix 1 – benefits of a

counselling approach                                13         

Appendix 2 – IACP Accredited

Members by region                                    14                                        

A proven, cost-effective solution 

The Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (IACP) submission to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Future of Mental Health Care 

Executive summary


The Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (IACP) welcomes the planned State regulation of the profession, which seeks to benefit the public by promoting the highest standards of conduct, education, training and competence. The Association is keen to highlight further major opportunities for partnership with the State, which if pursued, will also be of great benefit to the public. 

The IACP advocates a ‘stepped model’ of community-based mental health care. IACP is proposing a new initiative - using tried and trusted methods that have been proven to work and to be cost-effective in Britain. IACP and its academic partners are proposing an alliance with the State, to develop a new programme that will - if funded and structured correctly - tackle depression by integrating existing mental health resources with primary care.



There can be little doubt that the mental health sector is under pressure. Most people who receive support from mental health services do not require admission to hospital and are supported by mental health services in the community.


IACP strongly believes there is a need for greater availability of evidence-based talking therapies for people with common mental health conditions, that are accessible via primary care services and general practice.


The problems caused by depression add further to pressures on GPs and the health service’s secondary tier. There are real difficulties in accessing the HSE’s Counselling in Primary Care (CIPC) programme, whose service is in any case, not suitable for everyone. Primary care health professionals who make referrals, know this is an issue. ESRI figures show absence from work due to stress anxiety and depression, accounts for 18% of work-related illness (with an average of 17 days lost per affected worker[1]). This represents a major socioeconomic cost.  


At the same time, a tailor-made resource can be tapped, to expand access to talk therapies: IACP members are well-placed to provide needed support and to fill a conspicuous gap.  


* In partnership with the State, IACP is proposing a programme similar to the

Counselling for Depression (DfD) model used in Britain’s NHS2. In socio-economic terms, the programme would be largely self-financing - when absenteeism from work is taken into account.  It would address a major public need. The Counselling for Depression (CfD) programme in Britain follows guidelines set by the UK’s NICE standards body, the NHS has stated[2].  This programme, for mild to moderate depression, was pioneered by our equivalent association, BACP. 

*Counselling is as effective as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) in treating depression4, large-scale service results from Britain now show and it is 17 per cent more cost-efficient.

*30  per cent of Britain’s NHS primary care therapists are counsellors. IACP believes it is vital that counsellors in Ireland are funded to complete CfD training.


Counselling and talk therapies can often be effective for mild to moderate mental health difficulties. But these therapies are vastly under-resourced in Ireland, Mental Health Reform has said, adding: ‘why isn’t access to counselling prioritised to prevent mental health difficulties from escalating into disabling conditions?’ The HSE’s Working Group on Primary Care and Mental Health has said psychological therapies including counselling are recognised as the treatment of choice for many mental health difficulties as well as an adjunct to medication for more serious forms of mental health difficulty. Research has consistently indicated that psychological therapies are effective and beneficial for a wide range of mental health issues and that there are significant gaps in provision and access to psychological therapies in Ireland (HSE Guidance paper for Vision for Change Working Group). 

There is significant pressure on GPs and on hospitals. The 4,200 members of the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy are well-placed to address an identified need. We are proposing that our highly qualified and experienced professionals will provide a standardised specialist programme - equivalent to the UK’s proven and effective Counselling for Depression (CfD) service – in Ireland. In partnership with the State, this targeted initiative can be achieved with comparatively modest investment.  


The UK’s Counselling for Depression (CfD) programme trains counsellors to provide a depression-specific therapy for individual clients in an Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) setting. It provides continuing professional development for counsellors who are already trained in person-centred or humanistic approaches and who have significant clinical experience. In order to implement guidelines for the psychological treatment of depression, continuing professional development has been necessary. This has involved short courses to further enhance and update existing clinicians' skills in non-CBT therapies. These courses cover interpersonal psychotherapy, couples therapy, a form of brief psychodynamic therapy (dynamic interpersonal therapy) and counselling. 


A Vision for Change states “...the consensus among users and service providers was that psychological therapies should be regarded as a fundamental component of basic mental health services, rather than viewed as additional options that are not consistently available.” This view was reiterated in Mental Health Reform’s consultation meetings conducted in 2011. There is also adequate evidence demonstrating that psychotherapy is an effective treatment (Carr A. 2007). 


There is also evidence that providing counselling through primary care is cost-effective.  The HSE Working Group on Mental Health in Primary Care cited a study in Britain which found that counselling led to savings in the UK. There were fewer referrals to National Health Service (NHS) Out-Patient Services and fewer GP consultations in the year after counselling. (Mellor-Clarke (2001).   

Primary care: the main concerns

•       Lack of access to counselling (there are long waiting lists and the Counselling in Primary Care – CIPC - service applies to Medical card holders only).

•       GPs should be able to access counselling / psychotherapy for people without having to go through a psychiatrist

•       There appears to be a dearth of talking therapies at primary care level, with no such supports available in certain areas (Metal Health Reform’s submission on review of a Vision for Change).  

Counselling in Primary Care (CIPC)

The HSE’s Counselling in Primary Care (CIPC) involves short term counselling (up to 8 sessions that are available to medical card holders only. HSE statistics from 2016 show:

•       18,471 referrals nationwide

•       80% Sessions attended (66,087)

•       Female clients 72% (male clients 28%)

•       GP Referrals 92% (Primary Care Teams referrals 8%)

•       Challenges: long waiting lists, short-term counselling option, lack of availability to all in need, lack of adequate funding.

Huge variance in referral rates

There are currently 140+ CiPC Counsellors The waiting lists for access to a first appointment also demonstrate increasing demand on the service. Of the 2,530 clients waiting for counselling nationally at the end of April 2017, 29% (727) of clients were waiting between 0–1 month, 47% (1,183) of clients between one and three months, 15% (489) between three and six months and 5% (131) of clients were waiting over 6 months (Mental Health Reform). Data from early 2017 demonstrates that referral rates and waiting lists for CIPC vary across the country and are significantly higher in some CHOs than in others (2017 Mental Health Reform prebudget submission).

Mental health has long been regarded as a poor relation of the health service. The major role that mental health problems play in exacerbating physical illness and driving up service costs needs to be taken into account at a number of levels. In terms of NHS spending, at least £1 in every £8 spent on long-term conditions is linked to poor mental health and wellbeing (King’s Fund Centre for Mental Health 2012) This is a further cost to individuals and the economy. Developing more integrated support for people with mental and physical health problems could improve outcomes not only for those accessing the services but for the wider health care sector.

Years of under-investment means that people with mental health problems often experience poorer access to services and lower quality of care than those with physical health conditions. For example, counselling in primary care is a very limited service and therefore difficult to access. There is a need for bottom-up service redesign based on extensive community engagement and with a focus on improving both access to and quality of service. 

Within the UK model people can step up or step down according to need.  Wellbeing is a theme at all levels through the model and access to programmes incorporating wellbeing and positive mental health is offered at all levels - in a range of settings and venues. 

IACP believes local community prevention, advice and information services should be provided for the whole population. There should be access, when required, to talking therapies particularly for people on low incomes and those in in marginalised areas. We support a low intensity service, that uses integrated counselling and therapy and is linked to doctors in general practice. Up to one quarter of the population may reasonably be expected to require this level of care at some point in their lives.  

In addition to improvements at primary care level there is a need to reduce referrals to secondary care. One objective of a stepped care system would be building a culture of independence by teaching problem-solving and selfmanagement skills. It is critical that the responsibility for integrating mental and physical health care is not left to the mental health community alone. The changes needed will require the active involvement of those working with physical illness – particularly GPs, counsellors and psychotherapists and other professionals involved in supporting people with long-term conditions.


Sandwell Primary Care Trust in the UK has moved towards a primary-care-based model. Key components include: a single point of mental health referral for GPs, health visitors, midwives and other professionals, which asks patients which of a menu of services they would like to access in a tiered approach – people are assigned to one of five different levels of severity, with a different menu of services available at each level. 


In Ireland, a pilot project was set up making 1,500 counselling hours available in 20 GP practices from 2005-06. The service, run by Rian Counselling was extended in 2007 and as of 2010 had 59 GP practices participating, linked to 15 counsellors. (Ward, F. 2010) The model used by Rian Counselling comprised on-site counselling, the use of an established assessment process, the allocation of a maximum of 20 sessions and the incorporation of evaluation and feedback. The service offered three main types of therapy: 30% have received Integrative Therapy; 34% Person centred Therapy and 18% Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).   


The service was made available to adults who have a medical card or doctor visit-only card.  A total of 2,879 adults had used the service by 2010, with 57% of clients seen within just five weeks and on average receiving six sessions. An evaluation of the programme using the Clinical Outcomes in Routine Evaluation system has found it to be successful: 64% of clients moved from the clinical range (for depression or other mental health issue) to the normal range by the time they had finished the counselling sessions (Ward 2010). Clients and GPs in the Irish service were also very satisfied. GPs in particular were satisfied that the service did not carry stigma, waiting times were short and access to counselling was straightforward.



There is a focus on wellbeing throughout all services – with success defined in terms of meeting a person’s self-defined emotional and social needs more than in terms of clinical symptoms and definitions. This is driven by measuring wellbeing and mental health outcomes using standardised tools. Existing primary care services vary widely and many will need to evolve significantly to meet the current policy direction.


Issues arising regarding Mental Health Services in Primary Care:


-           Lack of access to services

-           Short term counselling approach (up to 8 sessions)

-           Long lists for those who qualify (At the end of March 2017, over 2,800 children and adolescents were waiting for a first appointment with CAMHS, of which almost 280 (i.e.10%) were waiting over one year[3])

-           Despite a recognition at national and international level of the importance and effectiveness of different talking therapies, there appears to be a dearth of talking therapies at primary care level, with no such supports available in certain areas - Mental Health Reform submission on review of a Vision for Change (page 66).

-           Lack of education around mental health services for GPs and other professionals (research suggests that mental health professionals, including GPs, may lack basic information about local mental health services, including supports provided by community and voluntary organisations such as peer support groups[4]

There is a need for parity of esteem between physical and mental health.Parity of esteem involves ensuring that there is as much focus on improving mental as physical health, and that people with mental health problems receive an equal standard of care. 


A longstanding criticism of health and social care is that people with mental health problems often fail to receive the same access to services or quality of care as people with other forms of illness. Many people receive little or no treatment for their condition, and there are large gaps in terms of health outcomes – people with the most severe mental illnesses die on average 15 to 20 years earlier than the general population.

Mental health problems account for 23 per cent of the burden of disease in the United Kingdom, but spending on mental health services consumes only 11 per cent of the NHS budget. In Britain, the government has continued to invest in the Improves Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme, a primary care service aimed mainly at people with depression or anxiety disorders. The number of people treated through this programme has increased annually, and IAPT services are now being extended to include children and young people. In Ireland, the financial squeeze affecting many public services in recent years, has created intense pressure in some parts of the mental health system.

IACP welcomes the commitment of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Future of Mental Health Care to investigate the proposal that there should be an increase in mental health funding to 12% of the total health budget and an increase in child mental health funding to 12% of the total mental health budget. IACP would request the Committee to specifically identify funding for C & P services as part of this increased budget allocation.

A stepped model of care

In the majority of wealthy countries, approximately 1% of the working age population are on benefits due to depression or anxiety. If a minimum of just 4% of this patient population worked for just one more month following treatment, the actual cost of treatment would be fully repaid (Layard and Clark, 2015). The argument to expand service provision is therefore thoroughly justified. It would make sense for psychological therapies to be accessible through primary care for individuals who do not require specialist mental health care. Minister Jim Daly has said the focus must be on recovery. This means people with mental health difficulties “will be at the centre of the design and delivery of services, so that individuals are supported to make their own choices and to lead full lives in the community,” the Minister said.  

In 2014, the HSE’s Counselling in Primary Care (CIPC) service was allocated a development budget of €3.8 million, which represents just one half of one percent of the mental health service budget (HSE Operational Plan 2014). This compares to investment of £149 million for the Increasing Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) service in the UK at that time. The demand for CIPC is steadily growing and the number of referrals to the service has increased significantly

The Primary Care and Mental Health Group (a subgroup of the Vision for Change National Working Group) recommended that regardless of financial status “universal access to psychological and counselling therapies should be available to ensure all patients can access an appropriate service for their mental health issues in a timely manner. 



Coming regulatory change

Registration by CORU:

1.     The current moves to put the regulatory framework governing registration of counsellors and psychotherapists in Ireland on a statutory footing, will benefit the public and the profession. This represents a major opportunity for the State, as well as for our members.

2.     The IACP welcomes what is planned: one of the strongest messages to come out of the consultation that fed into A Vision for Change was that people with poor mental health want alternatives to medication, including access to counselling and psychotherapy (Department of Health, 2006, A Vision for Change, p.13, 61)


Counselling and psychotherapy can help people with emotional difficulties and problems in relating to people. The most common treatments recommended for mental health problems are talking therapies and psychiatric medication. But treatments work differently from person to person, and it's not always possible to predict what will suit a person best. There are different types of talking treatments - which use different styles and techniques but they all have the same goal: helping a person feel better able to cope with emotions and life events.

Some people find specific sorts of therapy more effective than others. Research has shown the relationship you have with your therapist is really important in how successful you find the talking treatment (Lambert, M. J., & Barley, D. E. 2001). Half the battle in therapy is finding someone you trust, connect with and feel comfortable with. A therapist is a person trained in one or more types of talking treatment. Different approaches might need to be tried to find out what works.  The purpose of talking treatments is to help a person to understand feelings and behaviours better and, if necessary, to change them. 


The IACP believes that counselling and psychotherapy should be made more widely available - particularly to people on low incomes and from deprived areas - to ensure all patients can get access to an appropriate service for their mental health difficulties, in a timely and accessible manner. 


Research has consistently indicated that psychological therapies are effective and beneficial for a wide range of mental health issues [Carr 2007] and that there are significant gaps in provision and access to psychological therapies in Ireland (HSE Guidance Paper for Vision for Change Working Group).

The WHO argues that there can be successful treatment of depression in primary care using a combination of medication and psychotherapy/counselling, (WHO, 2003). 


There are multiple factors as to why someone is depressed. But counselling or psychotherapy are not always available – unless you pay for it. The HSE has developed some counselling services, but a common complaint is that they do not have enough resources and cannot supply a sufficient level of appointments or long-term therapy. IACP recognises that the brief therapy currently on offer from the HSE is not sufficient – in terms of access or number of sessions - for families in marginalised areas. 


Counselling is as effective as CBT

Service outcomes data from the UK’s Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme, now needs to be considered alongside evidence from trials, to form a more complete and accurate picture of the comparative effectiveness of counselling and psychotherapy. There is now long experience and evidence from large standardised routine datasets from therapies that follow NICE guidelines and from IAPT approved psychological therapies. The evidence from IAPT data is that counselling is as effective as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) as an intervention for depression. (Counselling, depression and NICE guidance, M. Barkham et al, 2017[5]).  This evidence of effectiveness in NHS practice settings across England, accords with the conclusions of Cuijpers (2017), who reviewed over 500 depression RCTs from four decades of research, and concluded that there were no significant differences between the main interventions. The consistency of the trialsbased and practice-based findings is important in supporting the value of counselling as an intervention for depression offered in the NHS in England. 

Figures from the latest IAPT report show that counselling is typically seeing patients for 5.9 sessions, whereas CBT is seeing patients for 7.1 sessions (NHS Digital, 2016). This would suggest counselling costs approximately £1,044 per patient and CBT approximately £1,256 per patient. In 2015 –16, 152,452 patients completed a course of CBT at an estimated cost of £191 million. If those same patients had received counselling the cost saving could have been over £30 million (Barkham et al 2017). The potential saving of £30 million is calculated only from the fewer sessions (on average) received by counselling patients in IAPT. However, given that counsellors in IAPT are often paid a grade lower than ‘IAPT-qualified’ therapists (Perren, 2009), this figure may underestimate the potential saving. 


A 2010 report calculated the annual cost of depression in England to be almost £11 billion in lost earnings, demands on the health service and the cost of prescribing drugs to address the depression (Cost of Depression in England, 2010). In this context, the cost-effectiveness of treatment is important to consider. IAPT data suggest patients accessing counselling attend fewer sessions on average than those accessing cognitive behavioural therapy. CBT (NHS Digital, 2014, 2015, 2016; Pybis et al., 2017; Saxon, Firth et al., 2017). This suggests counselling may well be cheaper and therefore more cost-efficient than CBT as it achieves comparable patient outcomes. 

Counselling for depression (CfD)

There is good evidence showing that cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can and does help many people with depression. However, CBT is not universally available, does not suit everybody and does not work for everyone. For people experiencing moderate or severe depression, there is an alternative treatment, called Counselling for Depression (CfD). UK Service evaluation evidence indicates that CfD is as effective as cognitive behavioural therapy[6]

Nine out of 10 adults with mental health problems are supported in primary care. There has been a significant expansion in access to psychological therapies, following the introduction of the UK’s IAPT programme. IAPT is rooted in the idea that treating anxiety and depression early, can prevent more serious mental illness and can keep people working. This has meant savings of about £7 billion per year.  IACP’s sister organisation the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) was commissioned to develop a Counselling for Depression (CfD) programme for use in IAPT in 2009. 

Britain’s Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme aims to make therapy available free on the

NHS mental illness where previously medication was almost the only option. The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) has welcomed the opportunity to secure a place in the NHS for a humanistic/person-centred model of counselling. The shared values that underpin all the therapies rooted in this tradition, including CfD, are those for low-intensity described by Carl Rogers in the 1940s and 50s. In CfD, aspects of emotion-focused therapy (EFT) - which has a strong research base and provides evidence of effectiveness – were integrated with person-centred therapy (PCT, in which - according to a BACP survey - 72 per cent of therapists are trained).

Overall, with regard to depression, counselling is effective (Cuijpers, 2017[7]). Results from (very) large UK standardised data sets in routine practice show counselling to be as effective as CBT in the treatment of patient-reported depression. There is also a suggestion that CfD may be more cost-efficient. 





The UK experience

Improving Access to Psychological Therapies(IAPT):

1.     There has been a significant expansion in access to psychological therapies, following the introduction of the national IAPT programme (Improving Access to Psychological Therapies). IAPT aims to make therapy free on the NHS for low-intensity mental illness, where previously medication was almost the only option. 

2.     In Britain, ‘additional modalities’ including Counselling for Depression, account for 1184 (27%) of staff in high intensity posts. And, importantly, of the CBT High Intensity Therapists that IAPT employs, 40 per cent are now qualified in multiple modalities, adding to IAPT’s ability to offer choice among high intensity therapies. 

3.     In November 2007 the Government announced funding rising to £173 million over three years to ensure that IAPT services were available to 50 per cent of the population by 2011. Thirty-two primary care trusts (PCTs) were commissioned to provide IAPT services in 2008/09. The national IAPT caseload of 1.3 million patients is 50 per cent higher now than envisaged when it was proposed a decade ago. IAPT mostly focuses on providing treatment for depression and anxiety. 

4.     The UK’s IAPT programme incorporates the counselling service into a ‘stepped model’ of care (NHS: IAPT for Adults Minimum Quality Standards). The programme starts with low-intensity ‘whole population’ mental health interventions that are accessible to the general public. For those who engage with on-site mental health services, first-line interventions are designed to be responsive, low-intensity and high throughput in nature. If required, service users may then progress onto higher intensity interventions, up to and including one-to-one time-limited psychotherapy.

Counselling for Depression (CfD) is one of the non-CBT therapy modalities approved for use in IAPT.

Counsellors and supervisors engaged in Britain have Counselling for Depression training funded by the NHS. CfD has been adapted from well-established and respected models of therapy, to meet the demands of IAPT, specifically the needs to be evidence based, to offer brief therapy in six to 20 sessions, and to allow the current workforce of qualified and experienced therapists to train quickly and inexpensively.

Counselling for Depression (CfD) is a manualised form of psychological therapy that follows guidelines set by the UK’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) for the treatment of depression.  It is made available within Britain’s IAPT services to support patient choice and to ensure there is a range of therapies to meet patients' needs. Counselling has a significant impact on depression. It has been found to be equally as effective as cognitive behavioural therapy. 

The programme wasdeveloped by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP). An up-to-date

IAPT report states that 23 per cent of patients are now receiving CfD (Pybis et al.) BACP was commissioned to develop CfD for use in IAPT in 2009, and welcomed the opportunity to secure a place in the NHS for a humanistic/personcentred model of counselling. 


•    Counselling interventions are reported to have comparable treatment efficacy to CBT and can have greater clinical effectiveness than usual care and other forms of treatment such as drug therapy (Rinda Haake, Therapy October 2017). IAPT Counselling also has the potential to be a cost-effective intervention when compared with the available alternatives. 

•    Counsellors target the emotional problems underlying depression, along with the intrapersonal processes (such as excessive self-criticism) which often maintain depressed mood. The therapy aims to help the client contact underlying feelings and make sense of them.

•    Similar to CBT, counselling typically lasts between six to 10 sessions over eight to 12 weeks, yet every individual case is different. In cases of serious depression, up to 20 sessions of counselling are recommended. In most NHS depression services people are likely to be seen once a week for 50 to 60 minutes.

•    Counselling for Depression is a type of treatment designed forqualified therapists delivering high intensity interventions. This programme is designed for the existing counselling workforce to equip them to provide evidence-based counselling interventions for depression within IAPT services.

Courses are approved by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP). Counsellors are trained to provide a depression-specific therapy for individual clients in an IAPT setting – where a client has not responded to CBT or actively opts for counselling. The available training seeks to standardise counselling work with depressed clients and align interventions with the evidence base underpinning NICE guidelines. 


•    Professional development is provided for counsellors who are already trained in person-centred or humanistic approaches and who have significant clinical experience. Hence Counselling for Depression (CfD) training builds upon existing knowledge and, more particularly, aligns counsellors’ practice with a competence framework with strong links to research evidence. It follows the Curriculum for Counselling for Depression produced by the National IAPT Team and develops knowledge and competence in psychological clinical assessment and CfD interventions. A thorough grounding is given in the theory, evidence base and practice of CfD, in accordance with national guidelines.

Increased access to talk therapies

1.     Development of talking therapies throughout all parts of the country, has been urged.  The objective would be to shorten waiting lists to a maximum of six months. The number of free sessions should rise from eight to 20.  (Mental Health Reform Submission on review of A Vision for Change). 

2.     Increased staffing would improve availability of mental health expertise within primary care teams, enable early intervention and reduce the number of referrals to specialist mental health services (Mental Health Reform). 

3.     Around 13,000 patients a year receive support through CIPC. However, service is extremely patchy and where available, the State predominantly provides guided self-help and brief cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). A similar approach has been used by the Access to Psychological Services Ireland (APSI) pilot.

There is a realisation that depression is very common but the question is who will provide needed extra services. There has been a trend over the last decade or so, in the case of mild depression not to prescribe medication but to provide counselling or psychotherapy, John Saunders, CEO of the charity Shine, has said.  In concert with other health professionals, counsellors and psychotherapists can provide an alternative. An enhanced role for talk therapies, will promote better mental health care in the community. Our IACP members are well placed to integrate further with doctors, nurses and other health professionals in primary care. Above all, our members can support pressurised existing services in important ways.  

A Vision for Change highlighted the under-development of our mental health services. One rural survey has found that although one in three GP adult attendees presented with psychological distress, just 11% were in receipt of mental health services (Twomey, C. & Byrne, M. Forum 2012). Moreover, an Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) national survey found that just 20% of those who had consulted their GP about mental health problems in the previous year attended secondary care. A Vision for Change proposed provision of integrated, recovery-focused care delivered in the community, primarily by multidisciplinary community. But there has been slow progress in the implementation of this policy.


Linking with general practice

Patients presenting with mild to moderate mental health / psychological problems should be referred to primary therapy services, which may be provided by our IACP members, the Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP) has said. 

An ICGP survey (Cullinane 2016) of 97 GPs in one county estimated the percentage of patients who have presenting or underlying mental health issues averaged 22%. Findings from another survey (Vaughan, 1996) show the most common reasons for referral were: depression (33%) and anxiety (12%). Research (Jeffars A., Russell, V) has shown that 74% of GPs believed they could manage more cases in primary care if there was access to counselling. Further focus groups research identified a need for short focused counselling, a need for long term psychotherapy and a need for greater liaison between GPs and the specialist mental health teams. 


Improvement seen in pilot project

In Ireland, 54% of GPs in the North-East region said they would have preferred to have counselling available at their GP practice (HSE Working Group on Mental Health in Primary Care, 2006). The region identified a gap in availability of counselling, with many GPs reporting that they did not refer patients for counselling because of a lack of services, waiting lists and cost. 






Mental health services have seen a considerable change in both workforce numbers and skill mix. Workforce shortages in some mental health professions must be addressed. Appropriate staffing is particularly important in providing access to safe care, and it is clear that many changes in the mental health workforce have had a direct impact on the ability to deliver quality care. Insufficient staff numbers and limited skill-mix mean that there is insufficient capacity to deliver evidence-basedservices. Many mental health services are experiencing problems with recruitment and high levels of vacancies - with increasing use of bank and agency staff. 

In Ireland, IACP members can provide a highly qualified, competent and appropriately trained resource that would tackle a wide range of mental health issues such as depression and alleviate the pressure from a under resource and under pressure system.  The investment by the UK government in an increased workforce of therapists and wellbeing practitioners to implement IAPT in Britain has resulted in major increase in population mental health and well-being.   Workforce shortagesin the community mental health sector specifically in the area of Counselling and Psychotherapy must be addressed if parity of esteem is to become a reality. Fundamental to the success of this initiative is adequate funding and staffing which can provide both safe and effective care to the Irish nation.

The impact of slow funding growth on mental health services is evident in a number of ways. Services have focused on transforming care and restructuring services to reduce costs, to shift demand away from acute services and to prioritise approaches that support recovery. One unintended consequence however, has been increased variation in care and reduced access to services.

There will also need to be investment in training and education aimed at giving GPs, nurses, counsellors / psychotherapists and other staff in all parts of the health service the skills to help people with mental health problems to enjoy the same care and outcomes as anyone else.


There is insufficient access to the CIPC service


Current Eligibility Criteria for HSE CIPC Counsellors in Primary Care is very restrictive and does not take into consideration Counselling and Psychotherapy qualifications (even at level 8 or 9) as standalone qualifications. This excludes many IACP Members who are fully qualified in Counselling and Psychotherapy and Accredited with a professional body but do not possess an additional degree in Human Sciences from employment opportunities in the HSE. This is turn denies access for members of the public to necessary services. 

IACP wish to propose a change to the current approach and take into consideration all IACP Accredited Members who have Level 8 qualification in Counselling and Psychotherapy or equivalent. 

Additional training can be provided for those who wish to take part in a state funded programme – based on UK Counselling for Depression model. IACP is in a position to train our members in this area.


For almost a decade, Counselling for Depression has been one of the therapies recommended in addition to CBT. The range of training available under Britain’s IAPT has increased to includeCounselling for Depression (CfD) and several others as well as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. The specific areas of humanistic practice on which the CfD competences are based are person-centred and experiential therapy. The objective is a more integrated future for IAPT services, designed to meet population needs and to offer patients a choice of therapies.


The UK’s IAPT programme offers a number of training courses for those entering IAPT services as new practitioners, and for those with existing professional qualifications who wish to develop their skills further as part of their continuing professional development. Training in CfD practice and supervision is offered by a number of UK regional providers. The training consists of a five-day taught programme followed by a period of supervised clinical work, during which a minimum of 80 hours of practice must be completed. Courses offer professional development for counsellors who are already trained in Person-Centred or Humanistic approaches and who have significant clinical experience (at least two years post qualification). CfD training intends to build on participants’ existing knowledge and support them in aligning their practice with the research evidence. CfD training provides guidance on working briefly, evaluating risk and dealing with client outcome measures.


An Irish review of the evidence has found that psychotherapy either alone or in combination with other treatments/supports is effective for a wide range of mental health diagnoses in adults, young people and children. The average success rate for participants in psychotherapy is 65 - 72% and many clients would require 20 to 45 sessions in order to recover. (Carr, A. (2007). Greater availability would shorten waiting lists. Mental Health Reform advocates hiring more staff, thus Increasing the availability of mental health expertise within primary care teams. This would enable early intervention and reduce the number of referrals to specialist mental health services.




Ease of access to counselling and psychotherapy services is dependent on a number of key factors

1.  Ready availability of highly qualified and professional Counsellors and Psychotherapists throughout the country

2.  Public awareness of both the benefits and availability of Counselling and

Psychotherapy services 

3.  Cost of access to the services


In response to point 1 above IACP is was established in 1981, to identify, develop and maintain professional standards of excellence in counselling and psychotherapy. Our work promotes best practice and the development of the profession as well as safeguarding the public. IACP represents over 4,500 members and is the largest Counselling and Psychotherapy Association in Ireland.  Our members provide a high quality professional service are fully accredited and are located throughout the country (details of the number of accredited counsellors and psychotherapists by county can viewed at Appendix 2)


With regard to point 2 IACP will continue to develop its communication strategy to raise public awareness about the benefits of counselling and psychotherapy. Included as part of this strategy is the redevelopment of the IACP website to create a dedicated and accessible portal for the public to access information on counselling and psychotherapy services both generally as well as specific services available in their local area via the IACP directory of accredited members. IACP very much welcomes the initiative of the Minister for State Jim Daly to establish a national mental health helpline which will serve to improve access to appropriate mental health support services such as the services that IACP members can provide.


In addressing point 3 it is generally accepted that as with the broader health service, cost can form a barrier for some to accessing services. Currently there is limited access to counselling and psychotherapy services via primary care level for those who hold medical cards. IACP is of the view that the existing counselling and psychotherapy services provided by the HSE can be augmented and complemented by the proposed Counselling for Depression initiative. For other groups that do not fall into the category of medical card holders there still remains an accessibility challenge. IACP requests that serious consideration be given to making counselling and psychotherapy services more affordable for the generality of the Irish people which will in turn make the services more accessible. IACP supports the view that a more holistic approach to the delivery of health services to the nation is required. Balancing the funding between physical and mental health supports can be achieved in a number of ways. The existing supports that provide tax relief for medical expenses and subsidies for the cost of optical, dental and hearing aid services via the PRSI system could be expanded to include support for mental health services such as counselling and psychotherapy. This would result not only in improved levels of mental health and wellbeing for the Irish public but would also reduce pressure on the overall health service particularly for General Practitioners and benefit employers by leading to a reduction in levels of absenteeism. IACP is fully committed to working with all relevant stakeholders in ensuring the success of this initiative.




Appendix 1

Benefits of a counselling approach

The UK’s National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommends a stepped care model for the treatment of mild-to-moderate low mood.  Thus, for such presentations, lower intensity interventions such as computerised CBT (cCBT) and psycho-education are recommended as a first option prior to referral to higher intensity interventions. A stepped care approach aims to maximise efficiency in terms of resources and costs. 

Choice of therapies ensured

1.     The UK’s NICE advocates providing therapies on the NHS. In 2008, the NHS in Britain introduced the IAPT programme.  In the first three years this programme introduced 3,600 new psychological therapists to England’s primary care trusts (PCTs) with the aim of reducing waiting times.  As of the end of the second year of the programme, recovery rates were averaging 40%.(Clark, D.M. The IAPT experience’, International Review of Psychiatry 2011). IAPT offers talking treatments for common mental health problems, such as depression. Further expansion of the English IAPT initiative has been recommended as a step to achieving better access to mental health services by 2020 (DOH, 2014).  

2.     In the UK, a key development in the IAPT model has been the drive to improve patient choice among a range of therapies that follow NICE guidelines, by offering counselling for depression (CfD), interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT), dynamic interpersonal therapy (DIT), and couple therapy for depression. There is central funding available through Health Education England for training therapists in CBT and/or these other therapies that follow NICE guidelines.

3.     Counselling is generally more helpful when there is persistent, mild to moderate, depression, support is needed in coming to terms with an event. It is important to note that some people will find working with a counsellor more effective for them than CBT and vice versa.

4.     There are many types of counselling. IAPT counsellors offer a particular type - called Counselling for Depression (CfD) - that follows guidelines set down by the standards body,

NICE, for those suffering from mild to moderate depression. Counsellors will use a more “non-directive” approach, to that of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), and instead of offering specific advice and help to overcome symptoms, they will offer support and talk through issues, so clients can come to their own ideal conclusion.

The standards body NICE specifies that interventions for people with depression ought to be provided in a framework, including an assessment of need, the development of a treatment plan, and routine outcome monitoring and follow up. A training curriculum for Counselling for Depression (CfD) has been developed, based on a Competence Framework and it is currently offered in six university centres. An estimated 30 per cent of IAPT therapists are counsellors and BACP believes it is vital that they are funded to complete CfD training to ensure a continuing choice of therapies in IAPT. Courses provide counsellors with post-qualification training in treatments that follow NICE guidelines for depression. The NHS funds places for IAPT counsellors to undertake CfD training. Courses are approved by the British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy (BACP). They are normally one-year part-time courses which combine an initial teaching block of five days, with supervised practice and completion of a clinical portfolio.



[1] 2


[3] HSE (2017) Performance Assurance Report January - March 2017, Dublin: HSE.

[4] Whitford, D.L. and Copty, M. (2005) “General practice in Ireland: are we equipped to manage mental health?’” Irish Journal of Psychological Medicine 22:2:40-41.

[7] 9



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