BABCP Response - NICE Consultation January 2022

and the added value of low intensity IAPT is?

compared to how people would have got on anyway if not referred to IAPT (in economist terms the appropriate counterfactual), the ‘added value’ has not been demonstrated. Yet most people receive a low intensity intervention such as computerised CBT, guided self help or groupwork.

I could find no independent outcome assessors involved in the randomised controlled trials of low intensity interventions that the NICE guidance largely relies on. Instead reliance has been placed on IAPT’s marking and marketing of its’ own homework.

In a review of randomised controlled trials published in 4 medical journals Kahan, Rehal and Cro (2015) only a quarter (26%) involved blinded outcome assessment. These authors write ‘Previous reviews have found that unblinded outcome assessment can lead to estimates of treatment
effect that are exaggerated between 27% and 68%’ see link below:

But the position appears worse when it comes to psychological therapies with no reliable rcts for low intensity interventions, and with regards to high intensity interventions the few blind outcome assesments are clustered around depression, the anxiety disorders and PTSD. Since the millenium there has been a drift away from the use of outcome assessors, this makes research cheaper, it is much easier to massage statistics to give a positive hue, the originators of an intervention and those with a vested interest are given a free hand.

Researchers on IAPT [seee Bower et al (2013)] play fast and loose with Cochrane risk of bias tool, see link below:

and jettison the need for independent blind assessment implicit in the tool on the spurious grounds that ‘most outcomes are self-reported’ see link below:

Looked at from the perspective of independent outcome assessment the claims for low intensity interventions look spurious and the evidence base for high intensity interventions is more circumscribed than BABCP conferences or IAPT would suggest.

The IAPT Manual published last year recommends extension of the service to irritable bowel syndrome, chronic fatigue syndrome, chronic pain and medically unexplained symptoms not otherwise specified but makes no mention at all of the need for independent blind assessment of outcome, instead it suggests simply what self-report measures should be administered. See link below:

Yet another marketing opportunity, when we need real world answers, how many people said to an impartial observer that they were back to their usual selves after the intervention? how long did this last?

Dr Mike Scott

BABCP Response - NICE Consultation January 2022

IAPT’s New Direction – ‘maybe, shove them all through low intensity’

that’s the take home message from a just published IAPT study conducted in the North East of England by Boyd, Reilly and Baker (2019), see link below:

This would mean that those with PTSD and social anxiety disorder would first fall into the orbit of low intensity interventions. Never mind that there is no empirical evidence from randomised controlled trials that these disorders respond to low intensity interventions.

Boyd, Baker and Reilly (2019) reiterate the populist myth that there is ‘sound evidence of the efficacy of low intensity interventions’ . This only becomes true if one lowers the methodological bar as low as in their own study, which was reliant entirely on self-report measures administered outside the context of a reliable diagnostic interview. These authors cite a study by Bowers et al (2013) in support of the effectiveness of low intensity interventions but these authors acknowledge that a key limitation of their study was generalisability, because patients were not reliably assessed for depression, see link below:

If the North East of England study is taken on board by IAPT, there is less need to worry about clients being on waiting lists for high intensity treatments, because they are allegedly already getting something worthwhile! Who needs high intensity therapists?

IAPT’s research and treatment is conducted on another planet from the lived experience of clients. Take the case of Tara, she suffered from depression after a fall and from a phobia about tripping, that I established with a diagnostic interview. She then had 6 IAPT face to face low intensity sessions which were described as guided self help, 2 of these involved behavioural activation. Her PHQ9 scores stayed at 19/20, which was not significantly different to when I 1st saw her with a PHQ9 score of 21. Treatment made no difference at all, though she valued the opportunity to talk she was very upset after the sessions. Tara was then put on a 3-4 month waiting list for high intensity CBT. The documentation revealed that there had been no evidence of fidelity to an evidence based treatment programme for depression and no attempt to address her phobia. Initially she had a telephone assessment with IAPT.

There is a wholesale abscence of appropriate treatment in IAPT and in practice its’ stepped care model violates continuity of care. It should try listening to clients and subjecting itself to independent audit, instead of playing with large sets of meaningless numbers, to justify funding.

Dr Mike Scott

BABCP Response - NICE Consultation January 2022

Better Than CBT?

‘Metacognitive therapy (MCT) is a new evidence based psychotherapy that is proving to be more effective than than CBT’ so runs the advert in the April 2019 issue of the Psychologist, promoting an MCT Conference at the end of next month. Inspection of the referenced supporting literature indicates that there is just one, to be published study, by Adrian Wells et al, on Generalised Anxiety Disorder, suggesting MCT outperforming CBT. In MCT their is allegedly a 70-80% recovery rate compared to average 50% in CBT.

But great care has to be taken in evaluating efficacy studies, those relating to GAD are an exemplar. Studies conducted only by the originator of a therapy (Adrian) are necessarily suspect, there needs to be at least one independent study by researchers without an allegiance to the therapy and in which there is blind assessment of outcome using a standardised diagnostic interview. Further the results should include blind rater assessments not merely self-report. Whilst Adrian’s work has not yet cleared this hurdle, a methodologically rigorous analysis of the CBT for GAD studies paints a less convincing picture than most CBT devotees would imagine. A review of CBT for GAD studies by Zhu and colleagues, found just 12 studies as worthy of consideration and commented:

‘Despite having blinded rater, in half the the studies the main outcome depended on the self-rating….The overall risk of bias was considered high in 8 of the 12 studies. And using the rigorous GRADE criteria the overall level of evidence was classified as ‘moderate’, which indicates that further research could change the widely accepted conclusion about the effectiveness of CBT. Thus the results in favor of CBT are strong, but not definitive’. Dropbox link to full article below:

When it comes to studies of CBT for long term physical conditions, the evidence is much weaker than that for GAD which raises the interesting question of ‘why IAPT is treating long term physical conditions’. This very question is to be addressed by a Psychological Welbeing Practioner at an IAPT PWP Conference on June 26th. Interestingly the Workshop is titled ‘Step 2 Support for long term conditions’. But there is surely a gross mismatch between a low intensity intervention and a long term physical condition! It rather looks like distinction between low and high intensity interventions is being blurred, not before time. However a colleague of mine working in high intensity has been trained in treating LTC’s but is restricted to 6 sessions! Despite none of the efficacy studies in this area offering just 6 sessions, I am off to a home for the bewildered and bemused.

Dr Mike Scott

BABCP Response - NICE Consultation January 2022

Supervision Of Most IAPT Workers Is Not Supervision – Monumental Waste

Alexandra Painter was for 2 years a Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner, in her doctoral thesis *, she reviews her experience and that of other PWP’s.  She notes that in the so called ‘Case Management Supervision’ that PWP’s are subjected to, a core component of supervision, the opportunity to reflect on practice and talk about how you feel about cases is routinely absent. Alexandra calculates that approximately 2.5 minutes is allowed to discuss each case! It seems that the PWPs, who are the most numerous of IAPT workers, are at the ‘front line’, most commonly they have been health care assistants in the past,   unlike the high intensity therapist’s in the rear with often clinical or counselling psychology backgrounds. In this war against mental ill health it is more likely that the troops at the front will bear the brunt.

Leaving the troops fearful of going over the top and disobeying commands from on high. The PWP’s plight resembles resembles the Charge of the Life Brigade, in that the powers that be refuse to accept that they are not on solid ground intent on reaching their target at all costs. There are no evidence based techniques, only evidence based treatments and all the so called EBT’s in low intensity treatment fail to meet criteria for evidence based treatment [ Scott (2017) Towards a Mental Health System that Works London Routledge].

  • At least two randomised controlled trials, on a clearly specified population, with independent assessment by a blind rater using a standardised interview
  • At least one of the rcts conducted by researchers independent of the developers of the treatment
  • Replication in routine practice using non-expert clinicians

How long will it be before there is a national outcry about such waste. Unfortunately the National Audit Office is still undecided about whether to publish its’ investigation into IAPT. People including myself and BACP made a submission to the NAO fully expecting the latter’s findings would be made public, if they and I knew that this was not necessarily the case, we would have wondered whether it was worth the effort! At the moment they appear to be countenancing a letter to NHS England, inspection of their website shows the latter’s wholesale support for and funding of IAPT! The NAO, to date, seems no better than Carillion’s Auditors!

Dr Mike Scott

* Painter, A. (2018) Processing people! The purpose and pitfalls of case
management supervision provided for psychological wellbeing practitioners,
working within Improving Access to Psychological Therapies
(IAPT) Services: A thematic analysis. DCounsPsych, University of
theWest of England. Available from:

BABCP Response - NICE Consultation January 2022

IAPT Behind Closed Doors – Supervision

As I mentioned in my first post last week I was working in IAPT in Bury in 2015. Clinical Supervision was delivered in the group setting and was not compulsory to attend.  Often the supervision had to be postponed for several weeks if the supervisor was either not available or was on holiday or had casework at a higher step which took precedence over the needs of the group.  Personal supervision was a similarly structured affair, with pressure and time constraints eating into very short sessions.


It was incumbent upon the supervisee to ensure that “risky cases” were discussed in a timely manner, since it was the supervisee’s responsibility to “raise the alarm”.  In many cases, the supervisee was not aware that any alarm needed to be raised, since they were inexperienced with either the identification or managing of risk with regard to mental health patients.  Please do not take this as a criticism of my colleagues; it is a criticism of the system’s failure to provide them with the knowledge they needed to understand the risks.

Anonymity protected Dr Mike Scott



Discussion With National Audit Office Re: IAPT

On Monday I received a thoughtful, considered and detailed response from the National Audit Office with regards to my submission re: the IAPT investigation. I’ve just penned the following response:

  1. In 2011 the Secretary for State for Health, Andrew Lansley MP and the Minister of State for Care Services, Paul Burstow, MP said stated ‘we are clear that building services around the outcomes which matter to people is the very essence of personalisation’, [Transparency in outcomes a framework for quality in adult social care (2011) Department of Health] so it cannot be for IAPT to choose the yardstick by which it evaluates itself. People seek physical/ psychological treatment in the hope that they will no longer be suffering from an identified disorder by the end of treatment, this is not a matter of clinical judgement, the yardstick is primarily patient driven. If an agency supplies data that does not allow a determination of whether this transparent yardstick is met, then they are remiss. In this connection IAPT ought to be brought to task by the National Audit Office.
  1. Psychometric tests of themselves do not point to any particular NICE approved treatment, if they had this power NICE would have said so, and they did not. Tests are like road signs blowing in the wind, they can only give direction if anchored in a reliable diagnosis. Inappropriate treatment including a failure to treat ( false positives and false negatives) is inevitably ubiquitous when treatment is not moored to diagnosis. Whilst it is the case that some cut offs are better than others at identifying a ‘case’ of disorder, the  cut offs themselves vary from sample to sample depending on the prevalence of the disorder and are at best relevant to one disorder – in practise people usually have more than one disorder. IAPT essentially has two instruments the PHQ-9 and GAD-7 which they purport measure anything of significance, no medical/scientific professional would claim such powers for just two instruments.
  1. I am unsure whether the National Audit Office are aware of the paper by Griffith’s and Steen (2013) [Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) Programme: Scrutinising IAPT Cost Estimates To Support Effective Commissioning, The Journal of Psychological Therapies in Primary Care, 2, 142-156]. that suggest that the cost of IAPT therapy sessions is 3 times more than the Department of Health Impact Assessment estimates and this may lead to very different conclusions about the cost-effectiveness of IAPT. For ease of reference I attach a copy of this paper.
  2. How has the IAPT data set demonstrated that it offers added value over a) services as they existed before IAPT b) non-IAPT services in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland? In the absence of such a demonstration it can be questioned whether IAPT overs value for money.
  1. It may be that one part of IAPT say high intensity therapy, is value for money but say low intensity (the most common modality) is not but no such analysis has been proferred. Why?


Dr Mike Scott

Current Psychological Therapy Issues

Evidence Based CBT Joins the ‘Endangered Species’ List

‘The good news is we have successfully amputated your right leg, the bad news is we operated on the wrong leg’.  The moral is that there can be no evidence based CBT treatment without an evidence based assessment (EBA). But EBA’s are increasingly absent in order to ease the research burden, ‘just rely on a psychometric test’, and reduce ‘treatment’ costs.

Emergency medicine operates on the 7 P’s, ‘Proper Pre-planning Prevents Piss-Poor Performance’. Is it seriously proper-pre-planning to operate as IAPT do, with a  typically 15-20 minute telephone conversation, conducted by the most junior member of staff, to be then placed on waiting list of upto 6 months for a treatment of indeterminate appropriateness? The reliability of this ‘pre-planning’ has never been assessed by anyone independent of IAPT. But this has not stopped Clinical Commissioning Groups often ring fencing IAPT monies at the expense of other mental health service providers.   The CCG’s need to be reminded that they ought to be working in an evidence based framework were the results of randomised controlled trials with independent assessment of outcomes hold sway (the top of the pyramid below). 60% of IAPT clients receive low intensity treatment, this is way down at the bottom of the evidence pyramid below, with a high potential for bias, reflected in powerful marketing.

It is time that CCG’s told IAPT that their pre-planning is simply unacceptable, there has to be an evidence based assessment. It is time the National Audit Office asked why are we continuing to fund a Service that has not been independently evaluated using ‘gold standard’, diagnostic assessment procedure. But most of all it is time to listen to those subjected to an inhospitable and unhelpful service. MP’s have to insist they are listened to.

Dr Mike Scott

Wounded Healer

Wounded Healers

“Two thirds (68.6%) of workers in low intensity CBT (PWP’s) are suffering from burnout and so are half of workers in high intensity.”

(Journal of Mental Health, published online January 13th 2017 “Predictors of emotional exhaustion, disengagement and burnout among improving access to psychological therapies (IAPT) practitioners” Westwood et al).


The position is no better than a year ago.  On February 3, 2016, The British Psychological Society reported on a 2015 survey of over 1,300 psychological therapists working in the NHS. The survey found that 46% reported depression, with half (49.5%) feeling they are a failure. One quarter considered that they now have a long-term chronic condition, and 70% said that they find their jobs stressful. Reported stress at work was up 12% in 2014: ‘The overall picture is one of burnout, low morale and worrying levels of stress and depression . . . the majority of respondents made negative comments about their work environment, 10% of comments were more positive’,

Should working in IAPT carry a government health warning? One educator said to me recently ‘I wouldn’t work in low intensity for a ‘gold clock’!

%d bloggers like this: