Alliance Meets the Shadow Minister for Mental Health

Report of the meeting between Luciana Berger, the Shadow Minister for Mental Health, and representatives of the Alliance for Counselling and Psychotherapy, 8th December 2015

Andrew Samuels, Jay Watts and Jeremy Weinstein met with Shadow Minister for Mental Health Luciana Berger MP on behalf of the Alliance for Counselling and Psychotherapy. This is the second time we have met with Luciana, and we congratulated her on her appointment and work in mental health. We then raised four areas of discussion.


We asked if Labour would consider an urgent review of the Improving Access for Psychological Therapies (IAPT) scheme. We discussed the need for increased service user choice, given its effect on engagement and recovery. We proceeded to raise concerns about the planned roll-out of IAPT-SMI (IAPT for those with psychosis and so-called Personality Disorders), fearing that it will take precious resources away from already decimated secondary mental health services. Psychosis services in the NHS and voluntary sector already struggle to get financing to offer the long term services needed for those with the most chaotic lives; moulding services into an IAPT outcome-obsessed shape will work against these clients who demand heavy investment of time and patience. This is because winning an Any Qualified Provider (AQP) contract demands showing quick, efficient treatment with good outcomes creating a desire to cherry pick cases which look good on paper. This would leave those most in need of society’s help without services.

Lastly, we provided a rereading of the figures on IAPT, showing the hundreds of thousands who are referred but who never experience a reliable recovery. We emphasised how being referred is not a neutral act, but brings a disappointment if no help is then available. Most importantly, we emphasised that IAPT has had an effect on the widespread closure of other services – especially for long-term psychotherapy – with organisations like MIND working increasingly from an IAPT model, leaving those with the most distress alone. Luciana shared her concerns about the effects of IAPT on wider mental health provision, and mentioned her recent visits to innovative crisis and day centres in precarious financial straits. She noted that she had asked a Parliamentary Question on the numbers who get referred but never actually receive a therapy, and registered our demand for an urgent review of IAPT.

Alternative Sources of Funding for Talking Therapies

We spoke to Luciana about the erosion of long-term and in-depth counselling and psychotherapy of a relational nature, both in the NHS and voluntary services, giving examples of innovative service provision which we can ill afford to lose. Of particular note, we emphasised that a two-tier system is emerging whereby the poor and disenfranchised have access to a very brief, highly manualized form of treatment (at best) – whilst the middle-classes who have resources continue to access and benefit from traditional counselling and psychotherapy. We were glad to note that Luciana agreed this is highly problematic, socially divisive and against Labour Party principles. The Alliance suggested various ways of tackling the problem with minimal cost including the provision of a small budget to inject into existing and new services for counselling and psychotherapy.

Social Work Action Network Mental Health Charter

We presented the Charter, explaining its identification of key problems such as the crisis facing service users, the role of the market, and the preoccupation with negative risk. We told Luciana about the support the Charter has received from a number of campaigning organisations such as Disabled People Against the Cuts (DPAC) and other service user led organisations, as well as practitioners involved in the Critical Mental Nursing Health Nurses Network and Psychologists against Austerity and, of course, the Alliance. Most importantly, we emphasised the positive steps of redress suggested in the Charter, including a renewed emphasis on User-run services, and the importance of hope. We hoped that the Charter’s vision might be incorporated into Labour policy on mental health.

A National Debate on Mental Health

The Alliance argued that the UK desperately needs Labour to initiate a new debate on the causes of ‘mental health’ and ‘mental illness’ based on the considerable evidence that there is no biogenetic cause of mental distress. There is a need to challenge all that might be depicted as ‘the medical model’. We argued that evidence shows us that human suffering is shaped by the society we live within, impacted by factors such as austerity measures, the breakdown of community and increased individualization at the expense of social cohesion. Luciana agreed that there is a fundamental problem with the language around ‘mental health’ and ‘mental illness’ and herself used the example of changes in the language in which suicide is discussed.

The Alliance suggested categories such as ‘anxiety’ and ‘depression’ are deeply problematic, and presented evidence that the public prefers stigma-busting campaigns based on psychosocial understandings of distress as opposed to illness models. We suggested that reshaping the narrative to include the importance of community, helping one another, listening and a relational  understanding of the self and soul fits with core Labour values.

We then all discussed how innovative projects based on community models of mental suffering could not only save money, but inspire different ways of viewing the self away from the national purse. Luciana informed us of details of the Opposition Debate on Mental Heath the following day. She stated that she appreciated our time and input, and welcomed on-going contact between the Alliance and the Shadow Ministry.

Report by Professor Andrew Samuels, Dr Jay Watts and Jeremy Weinstein (on behalf of the Alliance for Counselling and Psychotherapy)

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