A computer-based form of cognitive behavioural therapy will, from next month, become available to patients in England with depression and anxiety, the health secretary Patricia Hewitt announced yesterday.
Ms Hewitt said that over the next two years every primary care trust in England will be required to provide “computerised cognitive behavioural therapy” (CCBT) to patients with depression, phobias or severe anxiety.
The software, which the government says will be an alternative to medication, is part of a national improving access to psychological therapy programme.
The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) last year approved two CCBT programmes for the NHS – Fear Fighter for people who have phobias or panic attacks, and Beating the Blues for treating people with mild to moderate depression.
The government says the software will mean patients can benefit from cognitive behavioural therapy in a greater number of settings, such as the home, a library or a GP surgery.
Ms Hewitt said: “We want to offer patients even greater choice over how, when and where they are treated. Being able to access the right kind of therapy, instead of just being prescribed medication, is central to this vision for patients.”
Paul Farmer, chief executive of the mental health charity, Mind said CCBT will “bring therapy to the doorstep of users” by making it easy to access especially for people who live in remote locations.
“Its immediacy will benefit people who have been waiting months or even years to see a therapist,” he added.
“However, this method of delivery will not suit everyone. It is important that there is a choice of options.”
Critics, however, say CCBT is dehumanising and they question its validity.
Steve Halford, a clinical psychologist working in London said: “CCBT dehumanises therapeutic intervention, with much research indicating that it’s the therapeutic relationship [between a therapist and client] that mediates much distress and can influence outcome.”
The department of health is telling primary care trusts that they are “expected to offer” CCBT by March 31.
PCTs, which have not been given extra funds to implement CCBT, are being advised to ensure “appropriately trained” staff are available to provide CCBT.