Antidepressants and CBT in The Real World

A 24%  response rate combining the two, and manual driven psychotherapy conferred no added benefit Bartova et al (2021). In the podcast from Mad In America these findings are set against a 31% placebo response rate. Further no evidence that the interventions altered the course of a disorder, which is the prime objective of treatments for physical disorders. Rather the focus was on symptomatic relief. Articles covered in podcast include:


Pies and Dawson (2022) have today taken up the cudgel to attack the findings of Moncrieff et al (2002) that were the springboard for the podcast. But they are disingenuous in claiming that no one of academic credibility has ever suggested that low serotonin causes depression. For decades, at least in the UK this has been the dominant message given to patients, with the implication that they need antidepressants to restore the chemical imbalance. Pies and Dawson (2022) have recourse to a biopsychosocial model which posits interactions of thoughts, feelings, social factors and biology, in which will be found some biological factor that is of key importance in the development of depression and through which antidepressants will be found to work. But given the track record to date this seems unlikely and provides little basis for current pharmacological practice with the exception of the use of lithium. 

In the Bartova et al (2021) study the therapists claimed that they were adhering to a manual driven psychotherapy protocol, but no fidelity checks were made. A  similar scenario to the claim made by IAPT in the UK that it delivers CBT, but without any independent corroboration. It is I believe the case that CBT can make a real world difference for depression and the anxiety disorders if appropriately delivered.


Dr Mike Scott

Simply Too Complex CBT!

abandon ‘what treatment works for what’ and you end up with a free for all of imagined complexity.

What Works for Whom?: A Critical Review of Psychotherapy Research

With stressed clinicians lost in a fog, arguing interminably about possible landmarks (formulations) for treatment. Not surprisingly the issue of ‘complexity’ now figures highly on IAPT’s list of workshops. Paradoxically formal IAPT training eskews trainees working with ‘complex cases’. IAPT specifies the importance of following the NICE guidelines but without a reliable procedure for determining what cases they do and importantly do not apply to.

The IAPT Courtroom

An obvious defence for IAPT workers failing to consistently obtain the 50% recovery rate is to contend that they were dealing with complex cases.

In rebuttal the Organisation can contend that complex cases are: ‘namely primary or comorbid psychosis, personality disorder, autism spectrum disorder, substance dependence, severe and/or treatment-relevant physical health conditions, and severe psychosocial difficulties Liness et al (2019) see link’ and that the clinicians case falls outside this definition. But in areas of high deprivation it is relatively easy to claim that a particular client falls within this definition of complexity e.g ongoing pain from an injury or associated with a condition such as MS, having to use a Foodbank.

Flexibility Within Fidelity As A Defence

Flexibility has to be constrained by fidelity, if it is not then arguments between clinicians and line managers/supervisors have no arbiter. The clinician will lose out simply because the line manager/ supervisor has more power, at its’ worst ‘my way or no way’.

If fidelity is safeguarded, then there are agreed issues/concerns that need to be addressed with a particular client. It also sets limits on the range of interventions (flexibility) that are permissible for those particular issues/ concerns. Without a twin focii on fidelity and flexibility the clinician is up a creek without a paddle. But a hostile work environment can nevertheless ignore or more commonly pay lip service to fidelity and flexibility – they need to be admitted to the IAPT courtroom for the sake of both clinicians and clients.

Clinicians and Constructive Dismissal

Nevertheless there is a vagueness about the debate of simplicity vs complexity, that could mean that an IAPT therapist is hounded from office, without the case being put to anything like a jury, with no procedures in place to ensure any transparency and accountability.

The Need To Rediscover A Biopsychosocial Model

But actually matters are nowhere as simple as this simple/complex distinction. Steve Stadling (1990) and I

were involved in a randomised controlled trial of individual and group CBT for depression in Toxteth, Liverpool, and managed to make important lasting differences using Beck’s protocol for depression. But because we were using a biopsychosocial model I saw it as much a part of my work to say write a letter to a Housing Association for a client as conduct the CBT. Similarly many patients were prescribed antidepressants, again in keeping with a biopsychosocial model. This holistic approach to client’s problems appears to have been lost in IAPT’s fundamentalist translation of the randomised controlled trials. An alternative perspective is presented my trilogy of Simply Effective CBT books

Dr Mike Scott