CBT for Severe Mental Illness – Does It Reach the Parts That Matter?

Is IAPT overeaching itself by straying into the Severe Mental Illness arena? ‘Ian’ had a life long history of psychosis, he had a great deal of support/treatment over the years from Richard Bentall, author of the brilliant book ‘Madness Explained’, for which the family were most appreciative.  Unfortunately Ian had his benefit withdrawn on the grounds that he was ‘fit for work’ and I was asked to help. Within  two minutes of my seeing  Ian it was abundantly obvious to anyone that he could not work, he was so agitated,  his visits to coffee shops often curtailed by his paranoia.  In the event I produced a report, which alongside a letter from Richard resulted in his benefit being reinstated, his parents were delighted. I did offer Ian the opportunity to look at better ways of handling his paranoia etc but he declined.  I felt desperately sorry for him and reflected that even if he had taken up my offer I doubt that I would have made a real world difference, at best he would have been thankful for my efforts. I wonder whether CBT for psychosis has been oversold.

In using the term ‘severe mental  illness’ I toyed between this term and psychosis, I was trying to use a common language with the reader and in writing my report to the DWP I said that Ian met the DSM diagnostic criteria for schiziophrenia. Labels can be problematic and indeed might not have a biological basis but they give a direction for treatment and influence eligibility for benefits. Richard Bentall et al wrote an Expert review ‘Drop the language of disorder’ in Evidence Based Mental Health, February 2013 and recommended a ‘problem definition, formulation’ approach rather than a ‘diagnosis treatment’ approach, but in my view it is not a matter of ‘either or’ but a matter of both.  Notwithstanding our differences neither of us were able to make a real world difference in what I would see for want of a better term is Ian’s schizophrenia.

IAPT has a demonstration site for Severe Mental Illness for people with psychosis, bipolar disorder and personality disorder, before disseminating such a service there needs to be independent verification using clinician-rated measures (PSYRATS for hallucinations and delusions, SCID for personality disorders) that such a such service would add anything over and above support in the community, otherwise it is just extending an empire.

Dr Mike Scott

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