IAPT and Special Measures

If IAPT were a Hospital, operating without any consideration as to whether patients are returned to their usual selves with treatment, they would likely be placed in Special Measures. IAPT has eskewed accepted definitions of recovery.

IAPT’s Meaningless Yardstick

If you are departing IAPT (or wish to commit professional suicide!) tell your IAPT manager/supervisor the psychometric test results are not measuring anything meaningful, they are simply impositions from above! IAPT claims that the psychometric tests it uses (PHQ9 and GAD7) measure clinically significant change/ recovery. But this is not true.

The validity of clinically significant change criteria relies crucially on whether the test used taps the same construct as the identified disorder1. IAPT’s use of the PHQ9 and GAD7 violates the requirement for construct validity, specifically as IAPT make no standardised reliable diagnosis it is a lottery as to whether the psychometric test matches the diagnostic status of the client. A client could be suffering from for example variously, no recognised disorder, an adjustment disorder, OCD, panic disorder, the changing scores on the PHQ9 and GAD7 would say nothing at all about the outcome of an intervention for these disorders. To compound matters in the IAPT set up it is not possible to know when these measures are actually tapping depression or generalised anxiety disorder in a particular client.

IAPT’s Idiosyncratic Use of Tests 

IAPT have never stipulated any criteria for enduring improvement. Therapists discharge clients as soon as their scores dip below casenness on a self-report measure, neglecting to consider that what is being observed is likely natural variation than any return by the client to their usual self. Matters are compounded because clients can complete the questionnaires to either please the therapist (particularly likely if completed in front of the therapist) and/or convince themselves that they have not wasted time in investing in therapy.

IAPT Training At Fault

CBT therapists per se are not trained in methodology – there is rarely any understanding of concepts such as construct validity, reliability, the limitations of psychometric tests, bias introduced into such tests by the ways in which they are administered or of accepted criteria for recovery. The deeply flawed IAPT training has arisen without a murmur of protest from the British Psychological Society and BABCP hierarchy. The rationale appears to be so long as IAPT secures increased monies for mental health services that is all that matters, this is a dereliction of care to both clients and therapists.

How Outcome Should Be Assessed

The passage of depressed clients through IAPT has never been judged by accepted definitions of response, remission and recovery2, 3.

Response is defined as a clinically meaningful improvement in depressive symptoms that has continued for a sufficient length of time (3 consecutive weeks) to protect against misclassification owing to symptom variation or measurement error2. Response is typically operationalised as an  improvement of ≥ 50% over pre-treatment scores.

Remission relies on a definition of an asymptomatic range, defined as the presence of no or very few symptoms. A person can be judged to be in the asymptomatic range only if neither of the two essential features of depression (sad mood and loss of interest or pleasure) is present and fewer than three of the additional core symptoms of depression are present2. Remission requires that the person remains in this range for at least 3 weeks, again to protect against factors such as natural symptom variation.

Recovery is defined as an extended length of time in remission, which has been operationalised as at least 4 months4.

The passage of anxious clients through IAPT has never been judged by accepted definitions of recovery4. In the Bruce et al (2005) study of the trajectory of anxiety disorders a participant was considered to have recovered from anxiety disorder if he/she experienced 8 consecutive weeks at psychiatric status ratings of 2 or less (Table 1). Subjects who met this condition were virtually asymptomatic for 2 consecutive months.

Table 1

2. Residual The patient claims not to be completely his/ her usual self, or the rater notes thepresence of symptoms of no more than a mild degree (for example, mild anxiety in agoraphobic situations).

1.  Usual self The patient is returned to his/her usual self, without any residual symptoms of the disorder. (The patient may have significant symptoms of some other condition or disorder; if so, a psychiatric status rating should be recorded for that condition or disorder.)


1.Fisher PL and Durham RC Recovery rates in generalized anxiety disorder following psychological therapy Psychological Medicine 1999; 29, 1425-1434

2. Dobson KS, Hollon SD, Dimidjian S, Schmaling KB, Kohlenberg RJ, Gallop RJ, et al. Randomized trial of behavioral activation, cognitive therapy, and antidepressant medication in the prevention of relapse and recurrence in major depression. J Consult Clin Psychol 2008;76:468–77

3. Dombrovski AY, Lenze EJ, Dew MA, Mulsant BH, Pollock BG, Houck PR, et al. Maintenance treatment for old-age depression preserves health-related quality of life: a randomized, controlled trial of paroxetine and interpersonal psychotherapy. J Am Geriatr Soc 2007;55:1325–32

4.  Bruce SE, Yonkers KA, Otto MW, Eisen JL, Weisberg RB, Pagano M, Shea MT and Keller MB (2005) Influence of psychiatric comorbidity on recovery and recurrence in generalised anxiety disorder, social phobia and panic disorder: A 12 year prospective study. Am J Psychiatry 162:1179-1187.

Dr Mike Scott