IAPT’s Class Answer to Improving Access

Use classes. Forget about disorders just call it ‘stress’. Offer something CBT flavoured and capitalise on time and the placebo effect to demonstrate an effect, label the package ‘good practice’. Encourage IAPT providers to write about it in the Cognitive Behaviour Therapist (the online BABCP Journal) special issue to be devoted to IAPT, introduced by the lead clinician in IAPT.

The Stress Control (SC) programme of White et al. (1995) is more of a public health intervention than a psychotherapeutic group. It is run as a night school class, and though there are questions and answers between attendees and presenters, personal problems are not discussed.

IAPT’s Implementation

In an IAPT implementation of the programme, at Step 2, Burns et al. (2015) had a mean group size of seventy-four and a range from twenty-three to 106, with six weekly, two-hour sessions. The programme consisted of week 1, introduction to psychoeducation and the cognitive behavioural model; week 2, management of physiology; week 3, management of mental events; week 4, management of behaviour; week 5, management of panic attacks and sleep; and week 6, self-care. At the end of each session, material for the next session was distributed containing homework exercises. At the final session, relapse prevention materials were distributed.


Three quarters of the 1,062 clinical cases [PHQ-9 greater than or equal to 10 and/ or GAD-7 greater than or equal to 8] attended three or more sessions. Of those attending pure stress control alone 37% ‘moved to recovery’, defined as an improvement of 6 points on the PHQ-9 and 4 points on the GAD-7. With mean PHQ-9 scores for the clinical case sample reducing from 15.50 to 11.58.  Burns et al. (2015) claim that ‘SC appears comparatively clinically equivalent to other IAPT interventions’. However Gilbody et al. (2015) looked at how GP patients with a PHQ-9 score of greater than 10 fare with usual treatment, over a four-month period; their mean PHQ-9 score reduced from 16 to 9. It is thus not at all evident that the SC programme is of social significance.

The Case For Classes Is Built on Sand And A Distraction From Providing CBT That Makes a Real World Difference

The methodological quality of the SC studies are poor when assessed by the Foa and Meadows (1997) criteria, in that there are no clearly defined target symptoms, no diagnostic interview was conducted to establish which if any disorder the person was suffering from and the proportion ‘cured’ by the end of the intervention. Further there is no independent evidence that six or fewer sessions constitute an adequate dose of psychotherapeutic intervention.

Burns, P., Kellett, S. and Donohoe, G. (2015) “Stress Control” as a large group psychoeducational intervention at Step 2 of IAPT services: Acceptability of the approach and moderators of effectiveness. Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy, 44, 431– 443. http:// 10.1017/ S1352465815000491

Foa, E.B. and Meadows, E.A. (1997) Psychosocial treatments for posttraumatic stress disorder: A critical review. Annual Review of Psychology, 48, 449– 480.

Gilbody, S., Littlewood, E. and Hewit, G. (2015) Computerised cognitive behaviour therapy (CCBT) as treatment for depression in primary care (REEACT) trial: Large scale pragmatic randomised controlled trial, BMJ, 351, h5627. DOI: 10.1136/ bmj.h5627

Scott, Michael J. Towards a Mental Health System that Works: A professional guide to getting psychological help (p. 116). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.

White, J., Keenan, M. and Brooks, N. (1992) Stress control: A controlled comparative investigation of large group therapy for generalised anxiety disorder. Behavioural Psychotherapy, 20, 97– 114.

White, J., Keenan, M. and Brooks, N. (1995) Stress control: A controlled comparative investigation of large group therapy for generalized anxiety disorder. Behavioural Psychotherapy, 20, 97– 114.

Williams, C., Wilson, P. and Morrison, J. (2013) Guided self-help cognitive behavioural therapy for depression in primary care: A Randomised controlled trial. PLoS ONE, 8( 1), e52735. DOI: 10.1371/ journal.pone. 0052735

Dr Mike Scott