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26 October 2007

An army of 3,600 people are to be trained in cognitive behavioural therapy in order to deliver the treatment to almost a million people suffering from depression and anxiety over the next four years. Announcing the move, health secretary Alan Johnson claimed that the £170 million cost would be paid for out of savings that will result from 25,000 fewer people with mental health conditions claiming benefits

Cognitive behavioural therapy usually involves a course of 6-12 meetings with a trained therapist. The treatment deals with solving current problems rather than trying to discover the past causes of current feelings or behaviour. According to NICE it is as effective, but no more effective, than drug treatments for conditions such as depression and anxiety.

Many claimants will welcome the possibility of receiving such treatment, which is currently often unavailable from GPs surgeries or subject to a waiting list of 18 months or more.

However, there is concern that CBT may become a one size fits all remedy offered to anyone reporting a mental health condition. Not everyone with depression or anxiety will benefit from this type of quick-fix therapy. Even those who do may find that their symptoms return after a short time if the underlying causes have not been addressed.

There are also concerns about the level of training and experience that the new wave of therapists will have and at the role that unqualified private sector Pathways to Work personal advisers may have in referring claimants for therapy.