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NHS to offer counselling for couples affected by depression

Date:23 NOV 2009

The Government is to announce that it will introduce therapy treatment on the NHS for couples whose relationship is being affected by depression or other mental problems.

From April, patients will be assessed by psychologists and then offered a choice of individual or couples counselling through the NHS's Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme.

In a speech on Thursday to the New Savoy Partnership, a group aiming to improve access to psychological therapies, the Health Secretary, Andy Burnham, is due to say: "Trouble at home can lead to depression and anxiety - sometimes even children can be caught up in the fallout.

"When couples hit a rocky patch, a bit of help and support can stop it spiralling out of control. Professional support can help people rebuild relationships or separate amicably - that is why I want couples therapy to be more widely available on the NHS."

Mel Merritt, a spokesperson for Relate, the UK's largest provider of relationship counselling, welcomed the Department of Health's announcement.

"We have been lobbying for the remit of Improving Access to Psychological Therapies to be extended and welcome any initiative which gives more people access to couple counselling but we wait to hear the detail of this programme.

"The IAPT service is offered to clients who have been assessed as in need of a therapeutic intervention to address their clinical depression and anxiety. Relate has been in talks with representatives of IAPT to promote the value and effectiveness of relationship therapy as another service which we believe should be available to people who have clinical depression. This new proposal would be about providing a new service those with clinical depression and anxiety".

However the Department for Health has been criticised in the media for not prioritising spending on more serious illnesses such as cancer treatment.

In response the Care Services Minister, Phil Hope, said that the therapy could save money in the long-term by preventing unemployment caused by mental health problems.

"This week, the Health Secretary will outline our plans for a stronger preventative approach to mental health services. Couples counselling will only be a small part of that and only available to those who have serious depression as a result of their marriage problems," Mr Hope said.

"It is misleading to compare highly expensive treatment for cancer to mental health services.

"It is important to note that the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) endorses preventative therapy like this to secure good mental health and effective use of resources. A relatively small step can prevent more tragic consequences - like severe mental illness, depression, or long term unemployment. The cost of offering this additional therapy is minimal, as it uses existing resources more flexibly.

"This extension of the range of therapies available will be achieved by providing additional training to existing therapists and ensuring that they work in a more joined up way with the new Cognitive Behaviour Therapists. As a result, the additional cost of this development will be marginal."