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Talking therapy and counselling

Explains what talking therapies are, what happens during therapy, how to get the most from therapy and how to find a therapist.

NHS therapists

Any therapy provided through the NHS should be free of charge. Here are the common routes to access talking therapies through the NHS.

Your GP

Your GP might refer you to a suitable service after speaking to you – that service will then get in touch with you. See our page on talking to your GP for guidance on discussing your mental health with them.


Some areas run services which you can contact directly to refer yourself for a talking therapy. Your GP might give you the number of a service you can call, or you might find one through IAPT.

Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT)

Also known as 'psychological services (IAPT)' in some places, this is an NHS programme offering talking therapies for common mental health problems, which you can often refer yourself to without going through your GP. Most areas in England have an IAPT service, but the kinds of therapies available differs from region to region (IAPT is not currently available in Wales). To find IAPT services near you, use the online IAPT service finder on the NHS website.

"I'd definitely tell anyone who was accessing talking therapies for the first time to be patient and don't give up! The NHS can be difficult to navigate but it's worth it in the end."

What if there are long waiting lists?

Unfortunately it's very common to have to spend time on a waiting list before getting therapy through the NHS. While you're on a waiting list it might help to:

  • Ask your doctor to give you a contact number to ring to check how long you have to wait.
  • Explore any alternatives to therapy which might help in the meantime.

Our page on facing and overcoming barriers to seeking help gives more suggestions.

Mind is campaigning to make sure that everyone has access to talking therapies when they need them. You can find out more about what we're doing on our campaign pages and see how you can get involved.

"It's been a total rollercoaster for me – I've tried many different therapies, often not realising what was going on as the NHS wasn't clear at explaining things to me. I've found bits that worked, bits that didn't work, and bits that might've worked if I'd realised I could change therapists. Now I'm working with a therapist who I really trust and, with her support, my life has dramatically improved."

Charity and third sector therapists

Some community and charity sector organisations may offer free or low-cost talking therapies. For example:

See our page on seeking help through the third sector for more information. Some charities also provide telephone listening and emotional support services. These are not counselling or therapy, but can be helpful if you need to talk to someone in between sessions.

Therapists at your place of work or education

  • If you're a student – many colleges and universities have a free counselling service. You can usually access this without going through your academic tutors or GP. (See our pages on coping with student life for more information)
  • If you're an employee – your workplace might offer an Employee Assistance Programme which might provide a limited number of free therapy sessions. You can usually access this without going through your Manager, HR department or GP. (See our pages on coping with working life for more information)

Private therapists

There are many reasons you might consider going private, although it's not an option for everyone because it can be expensive. If you decide to explore private therapy, it's a good idea to look for a therapist using the online search function of a reliable website which only lists therapists who are registered with a professional body. For example:

Before committing to paying for therapy it may be helpful to ask:

  • How much do they charge per session?
  • Do they offer a free introductory session to allow you to decide whether you can work together?
  • Do they offer reduced rates for people on low incomes?
  • Do they charge for missed appointments (and if yes, how much notice do you need to give them to avoid being charged)?

See our page on private sector care for more information on paying for healthcare.

Finding culturally competent therapy

When you face racism, it helps if your therapist understands how racism affects mental health. Our racism information explains what culturally competent therapy is, and has more suggestions for finding support. 

Learn more about about racism and mental health

Online or digital therapy

You may find websites offering low cost therapy online. This can be helpful if you're uncomfortable talking to someone in person, or if you have difficulty leaving the house or using transport.

But some of these sites might not use professional therapists, so it's important to ask enough questions to trust in the person you're talking to. See our pages on getting the most from therapy and staying safe online for support to feel confident in seeking therapy online.

Things to ask when arranging an appointment with a therapist

You may want to ask your therapist (or the person referring you for therapy) about:

  • their background and qualifications
  • the type of therapy they practice
  • if they have a specialism (for example, some therapists specialise in working with particular issues or groups such as younger people, LGBTQ+ people, or survivors of abuse and violence)
  • their experience of working with the problem you're experiencing
  • whether there is a waiting list and how long it will take you to get an appointment
  • how long the therapy will last and what it will be like
  • the benefits and risks involved
  • what happens if you cancel or miss a session
  • their confidentiality policy
  • if you have a disability and need reasonable adjustments to make the sessions easier for you to attend.

It's also important to mention any special requirements or preferences you have. For example, if you'd feel most comfortable seeing a therapist of a particular gender, or who speaks your first language, or has a particular specialism.

This information was published in June 2018.

This page is currently under review. All content was accurate when published. 

References and bibliography available on request.

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