Expansion Into Long Term Conditions By IAPT Is Quackery

so challenge Clinical Commissioning Groups on the value for money – no better than homeopathy. Studies of CBT  for long term conditions (LTCs) show either no effect, see Serfaty et al study (2019) on cancer https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/the-british-journal-of-psychiatry/article/effectiveness-of-cognitivebehavioural-therapy-for-depression-in-advanced-cancer-cantalk-randomised-controlled-trial/E9264C516634EC7BC3FF9E80B551A8C5

and/or rely on a self report measure of questionable real world significance, see the Everitt et al  (2019) study of irritable bowel syndrome https://www.thelancet.com/journals/langas/article/PIIS2468-1253(19)30243-2/fulltext In the Everitt et al (2019) study outcome was assessed primarily by the patient’s completion of a 5 item measure of the severity of IBS (IBS-SSS) rather than a clinician independent of the study asking the IBS-Adequate Relief  question ‘ since… have you had adequate relief of your IBS’. Usually the IBS-AR uses the time frame of the past seven days but in the context of assessing CBT it could be since entering the study for a control group or since cbt for those having cbt.  The correlation between the IBS-AR and IBS-SSS though significant is small see Passos et al (2009) http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:35859644

The authors of the Everitt et al (2019) study appear not to realise  that use of a self-report measure as the primary outcome measure introduces a demand effect for clients undergoing cbt, they don’t want to feel that they have wasted their time. Further the Passos et al (2009) study showed that the IBS-AR is much less subject to fluctuation than the IBS-SSS. Arguably the IBS-AR is of much greater social significance, addressing whether an intervention makes a real world difference. 

It is worrying that Everitt et al (2019) opine:

‘Offering both web-CBT and telephone-CBT in NHS services such as Improving Access to Psychological Therapy could allow many patients to gain substantial benefits with web-CBT with minimal therapist input while allowing a step-up approach to telephone-CBT for those needing additional

IAPT will surely jump on this to justify empire building and likely ignore the caution of Serfaty et al (2019) 

‘our results suggest that resources for a relatively costly therapy such as IAPT-delivered CBT should not be considered as a first-line treatment for depression in advanced cancer. Indeed, these  findings raise important questions about the need to further evaluate the use of IAPT for people with comorbid severe illness’

If as seems likely Clinical Commisioning Groups fund IAPT’s expansion into LTCs they should be asked to justify this expenditure in the abscence of any empirical base.  

Dr Mike Scott

CBT, Cancer and IAPT

a just published study of CBT for depression in patients with cancer has shown no effect [ Serfaty et al (2019)]. Patients were given CBT by IAPT staff in addition to treatment as usual (TAU) and the results compared with TAU alone. Whether the outcome measure was the PHQ9 or Beck Depression inventory there was no difference in outcome, see link below:


The results suggest more generally, that if IAPT’s performance was compared to TAU no difference would be found. The study also casts doubt on the wisdom of IAPT’s sojourn into treating long term physical conditions.

Problems With Engagement

The intervention comprised up to 12 individual sessions (either face to face or over the phone), but the mean number of sessions received was 4.7 and over a third (35.6%) did not take up any sessions. They were all patients expected to live for 4 or more months. Interestingly 60% of patients had a previous history of depression. Of 2224 cancer patients only 10% (230) were found suitable and consented to treatment.

Some Methodological Issues

  1. There was no blind assessment of outcome using the standardised diagnostic interview (MINI) that was used to assess whether a patient was initially clinically depressed.
  2. TAU is a poor comparator as it does not control for the attention and expectations generated by being offered a special treatment (CBT). The appropriate comparator should have been an active placebo
  3. Therapists were rated using the Cognitive Therapy Rating Scale Revised but there is no mention as to whether this predicted outcome.

But CBT Can Make A Real Difference In The Right Hands

At The Right Time

One of the authors of the above study Kathryn Mannix, A Palliative Care Physician, has written a stunning book, With The End In Mind

With the End in Mind: How to Live and Die Well

Her capacity to be with people is truly amazing, this clearly is not just a job, for example her use of CBT with a patient with breathlessness as he awaits a lung transplant (he has cystic fibrosis) is truly exemplary. But she is a very credible source of persuasion with a detailed knowledge of the difficulties of those in Hospice care. I would wholeheartedly recommend you read this book.

Dr Mike Scott