It’s not you it is us – anecdotal evidence and observation from 7 years clinical practice and leadership in IAPT

I am not averse to IAPT, as a mental health nurse and, therefore, an ambassador for mental health (amongst other things) I’m working in IAPT because I want to help people and because I care.

I’m writing from the very front line of this so when I ask my patients what they want or what their ‘goals of therapy’ are they understandably look at me somewhat quizzically and say something along the lines of ‘I just want to feel better / someone to talk too’ – this is hardly a good starting point for a treatment that is so rigid in its ‘fidelity to the model’ that therapists are subjected to strict supervision which can result in performance management or even disciplinary measures if they do not adhere to the draconian protocols.

This creates a dichotomy for therapists (Mason & Reeves 2018), do we give the patient what they want or what the service tells us to give the patients? – this then leads to confusion for patients and disruption in the therapeutic relationship. 

Therapeutic relationship did I hear you say? That most important feature of any talking therapy and predictor of a successful outcome (Knox 2015, Rogers 1951)?

I was once told by a clinical lead that the therapeutic relationship is not important, especially at low intensity where there is only 6-8 thirty-minute appointments (you can only imagine my sense of despondency).

The science says that CBT alone works, the science is convincing and backed up by NICE guidelines and academic research at an institutional and political level (Wakefield et al 2020), I’m looking at you School of Psychology University of Sheffield.  If you look closely though, people can see through the bias, dubious points of reference and blatant nepotism (Scott 2018, 2021, Kellet 2020).  I would argue if it is really that good anybody, even a robot could deliver it, and here the science fails because guess what, most people want to talk about their struggles of the human experience with another human, they want genuineness, unconditional positive regard, empathy and congruence, sound familiar? Just ask Carl Rogers.

When my supervisees come to me with the common struggles of working in IAPT, burnout and the dichotomy of care, I look at them knowingly and refer them to the best intervention I know in psychotherapy, I tell them to ask Carl and remember that genuineness, empathy, and unconditional positive regard is an intervention in itself,  the rest comes down to getting to know the patient and wanting to work together for whatever the person needs, so long as it’s within the step two interventions of course…

 

 My problem is the system, the Industrialisation of Care (Jackson & Rizq 2019) thanks in no small part to the neo liberal austerity politics creating an influential marriage with the science (Dalal 2018). 

Don’t get me wrong I wanted an alternative to the over prescribed anti-depressants (Whitaker 2010) and lack of access to talking therapy but what we have created is a data eating, CBT advocating monster which offers patients no alternative talking therapy in most cases (Jackson & Rizq 2019) and is almost entirely unsuitable for people from areas of social deprivation who are therefore overprescribed anti-depressant medication (Destress 2019).  This is a crime of health inequality where inscription of deficits-based thinking sees distressed people who are living in poverty as somehow deficient and in need of ‘correction’ through medical or therapeutic intervention (Destress 2019).  But enough of the politics, don’t get me started on that, but if you are interested in more on this read the Destress Project report ‘Poverty, Pills and Pathology’ or Managerialism, Politics and the Corruptions of Science by Farhad Dalal.

Author: Name withheld for protection – how has it come to this (MS)?

References

Dalal (2018) CBT: The Cognitive Behavioural Tsunami: Managerialism, Politics and the Corruptions of Science. Published by Routledge, Abingdon, UK.

Destress Project (2019) Poverty, Pills and Pathology, final report. Available at: http://destressproject.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/Final-report-8-May-2019-FT.pdf (Accessed: 7th April 2021).

Jackson & Rizq (2019) The Industrialisation of Care: Counselling, Psychotherapy and the Impact of IAPT. Published by PCCS Books, Monmouth, UK.

Kellett, S. et al. (2021) ‘The costs and benefits of practice-based evidence: Correcting some misunderstandings about the 10-year meta-analysis of IAPT studies’, The British journal of clinical psychology, 60(1), pp. 42–47. doi: 10.1111/bjc.12268.

Knox, R. and Cooper, M. (2015) The therapeutic relationship in counselling & psychotherapy. SAGE (Essential issues in counselling and psychotherapy). Available at: https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=ip,shib&db=cat06100a&AN=btc.9781446282908&site=eds-live (Accessed: 7 April 2021).

Mason, R. and Reeves, A. (2018) ‘An exploration of how working in the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme might affect the personal and professional development of counsellors: an analytical autoethnographic study’, British Journal of Guidance & Counselling, 46(6), pp. 669–678. doi: 10.1080/03069885.2018.1516860.

Rogers, C. R. (1951) Client centered therapy. Constable. Available at: https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=ip,shib&db=cat06100a&AN=btc.0094539901&site=eds-live (Accessed: 7 April 2021).

Scott, M.J. (2018). Improving access to psychological therapies (IAPT) – the need for radical reform.Journal of Health Psychology, 23, 1136–1147. https://doi.org/10.1177/1359105318755264

Scott, M. J. (2021) ‘Ensuring that the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme does what it says on the tin’, The British journal of clinical psychology, 60(1), pp. 38–41. doi: 10.1111/bjc.12264.

Wakefield, S. et al. (2021) ‘Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) in the United Kingdom: A systematic review and meta-analysis of 10-years of practice-based evidence’, The British journal of clinical psychology, 60(1), pp. 1–37. doi: 10.1111/bjc.12259.

Whitaker, R. (2010) Anatomy of an epidemic: magic bullets, psychiatric drugs, and the astonishing rise of mental illness in America. Broadway. Available at: https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=ip,shib&db=cat06100a&AN=btc.9780307452429&site=eds-live (Accessed: 7 April 2021).

2 thoughts to “It’s not you it is us – anecdotal evidence and observation from 7 years clinical practice and leadership in IAPT”

  1. Wow! Such spot on summary of what is like working at IAPT. I worked at an extremely busy IAPT service in London, in an area of huge inequality, for 11 years. I passed ££££million pound houses in my way to work every day, and the other half of the borough is one of the 10 most deprived wards in the country. The last year I worked there, I was managed by bullying and coerced to put my professional ethics aside in order to lie in the recovery statistics. They completely broke me as a therapist and as a person, and I am still recovering of the trauma of constant bullying for months. Did Aaron Beck explained in any of his books how to treat poverty and social exclusion with CBT? What a joke!

    1. That is awful to hear Teresa. It really makes mental health (as a profession) appear like a complete joke. Rogers and Beck lived in different times. In times where people were paid fairly and not pennies like now. Now, it feels like we have to be grateful for putting up with garbage. Like that of an abusive relationship you put time and money into, but only get a slither of goodness back. IAPT will never change. In the end, it is all about money. Even with state funded schools, it is the same frustration. With this logic, why bother even be in healthcare? Why bother caring if it is all dictated by numbers and not human beings? Heck, Germanian and Viking tribes were more put together than what we have now as support. It is always fascinating to see how little criticism there is for IAPT but clearly it deserves more criticism than its getting.

      Good luck trying to work with interpreter clients as well. Again, IAPT is for the basic hiccups of mental health, not these complex “goodness, I feel guilty I cannot help this person” type cases. I worked for IAPT for close to 2 yrs and I am already burntout. Psychology used to be a breakthrough for war veterens. Now it is used to almost coerce people to go back to work (and become another number) as opposed to help them.

      Best thing to do is to work at IAPT part-time and find a more solid career path.

      Nathan

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