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How many counselling sessions do you get on the nhs

The term ‘talking therapy’ covers all the psychological therapies that involve a person talking to a therapist about their problems.

For some problems and conditions, one type of talking therapy may be better than another. Different talking therapies also suit different people.

Below is a brief explanation of some common talking treatments and how they can help. Your GP or mental health worker can help you decide which one could be best for you.


Counselling is probably the best-known talking therapy and the one most likely to be available on the NHS at your GP surgery.

Counselling on the NHS usually consists of 6 to 12 sessions, each an hour long. You talk in confidence to a counsellor, who helps you to think about your situation.

Counselling is ideal for people who are basically healthy, but need help coping with a current crisis, such as:

  • anger
  • relationship issues
  • bereavement
  • redundancy
  • infertility
  • the onset of a serious illness

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

The aim of CBT is to help you think more positively about life and free yourself from unhelpful patterns of behaviour.

In CBT, you set goals with your therapist and may carry out tasks between sessions. A course typically involves around 6 to 15 sessions, which last about an hour each.

Like counselling, CBT deals with current situations more than events in your past or childhood.

CBT has been shown to work for a variety of mental health problems. This doesnt mean it’s better than other therapies, just that the evidence base is more robust for CBT at this time.​

In particular, CBT can help with:

CBT is available on the NHS for people with depression, anxiety and other mental health problems that it has been proven to help.

There are also self-help books and computer courses based on CBT to help you overcome common problems like depression.

Psychodynamic psychotherapy

Unlike counselling and CBT, psychodynamic psychotherapy involves talking more about how your past influences what happens in the present and the choices you make. It tends to last longer than CBT and counselling. Sessions are an hour long and can continue for a year or more.

There are different types of psychodynamic psychotherapy, but they all aim to help you understand more about yourself, improve your relationships and get more out of life. Psychodynamic psychotherapy can be especially useful for people with long-term or recurring problems to find the cause of their difficulties.

There’s some evidence that psychodynamic psychotherapy can help depression and some eating disorders.

NHS psychodynamic psychotherapists normally work in a hospital or clinic, where you’ll see them as an outpatient. Private psychodynamic psychotherapists often work from home.

Family therapy

In family therapy, a therapist (or pair of therapists) works with the whole family. The therapist explores their views and relationships to understand the problems the family is having. It helps family members communicate better with each other.

Sessions can last from 45 minutes to an hour-and-a-half, and usually take place several weeks apart.

You may be offered family therapy if the whole family is in difficulty. This may be because one member of the family has a serious problem that’s affecting the rest of the family. Family therapists deal with lots of different issues, including:

  • child and adolescent behavioural problems
  • mental health conditions, illness and disability in the family
  • separation, divorce and step-family life
  • domestic violence
  • drug addiction or alcohol addiction

Relationship counselling

Relationship counselling, or couples therapy, can help when a relationship is in crisis (after an affair, for example). Both partners talk in confidence to a counsellor or therapist to explore what has gone wrong in the relationship and how to change things for the better. It can help couples learn more about each other’s needs and communicate better.

Ideally, both partners should attend the weekly hour-long sessions, but they can still help if just one person attends.

Group therapy

In group therapy, up to around 12 people meet, together with a therapist. It’s a useful way for people who share a common problem to get support and advice from each other. It can help you realise you’re not alone in your experiences, which is itself beneficial.

Some people prefer to be part of a group or find that it suits them better than individual therapy.

Interpersonal therapy

This is a talking treatment that helps people with depression to identify and address problems in their relationships with family, partners and friends.

Behavioural activation

Behavioural activation is a talking therapy that encourages people to develop more positive behaviour, such as planning activities and doing constructive things that they would usually avoid doing.

Mindfulness-based therapies

Mindfulness-based therapies help you focus on your thoughts and feelings without becoming overwhelmed by them. They can be used to help treat depression, stress, anxiety and addiction.

Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) incorporates techniques such as meditation, gentle yoga and mind-body exercises to help people learn how to cope with stress.

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) combines mindfulness techniques like meditation and breathing exercises with cognitive therapy. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends MBCT to help people avoid repeated bouts of depression.

Read more about mindfulness.

Talking therapies are psychological treatments for mental and emotional problems like stress, anxiety and depression.

There are lots of different types of talking therapy, but they all involve working with a trained therapist.

This may be one-to-one, in a group, online, over the phone, with your family, or with your partner.

The therapist helps you understand and cope with the problems you’re having.

For some problems and conditions, one type of talking therapy may be better than another.

Different talking therapies also suit different people.

Talking therapies on the NHS

You can get some talking therapies, like counselling for depression and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), on the NHS.

You can refer yourself directly to an NHS psychological therapies service without a referral from a GP.

NHS psychological therapies services are also known as Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) services.

If you prefer, see a GP and they can refer you and share relevant information about you.

Guided self-help

Guided self-help is recommended as a treatment for some types of depression, anxiety, panic disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

With guided self-help you work through a CBT-based workbook or computer course with the support of a therapist.

The therapist works with you to understand your problems and make positive changes in your life.

Guided self-help aims to give you helpful tools and techniques that you can carry on using after the course has finished.

During the course your therapist will support you with face-to-face, online or phone appointments.

See some more self-help therapies.


Counselling is a talking therapy where you talk in confidence to a counsellor. They help you find ways to deal with difficulties in your life.

You may be offered counselling on the NHS if, for example, you:

  • have some types of depression
  • are struggling to cope a recent life event, like a bereavement
  • are having fertility problems

Counselling on the NHS may be offered as a single session or a course of sessions over a period of weeks or months.

Read more about counselling.

Counselling for depression

Counselling for depression has been specially developed to help people understand the underlying causes of their depression.

Counselling for depression is available through NHS psychological therapies services (IAPT).

It’s usually offered to people who have mild to moderate depression and have already tried other therapies, such as guided self-help, or other therapies are not suitable for them.

Behavioural activation

Behavioural activation is a talking therapy that aims to help people with depression take simple, practical steps towards enjoying life again.

It may be offered one-to-one or in a group with regular meetings or phone calls with a therapist.

The aim is to give you the motivation to make small, positive changes in your life.

You’ll also learn problem-solving skills to help you tackle problems that are affecting your mood.

You’ll usually be offered about 16 to 20 sessions.

Interpersonal therapy (IPT)

IPT is a talking treatment that helps people with depression identify and address problems in their relationships with family, partners and friends.

The idea is that poor relationships with people in your life can leave you feeling depressed.

Depression can in turn make your relationships with other people worse.

You may be offered IPT if you have mild to moderate depression that hasn’t responded to other talking therapies, such as CBT.

IPT is usually offered for 16 to 20 sessions.

Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR)

EMDR is a talking therapy that’s been developed to help people who have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

People who have PTSD may experience intrusive thoughts, memories, nightmares or flashbacks of traumatic events in their past.

EMDR helps the brain reprocess memories of the traumatic event so the negative images, emotions and physical feelings they cause have less impact.

EMDR can be a distressing process, so it’s important to have a good support network of family and friends around you if you plan to try it.

A course of treatment is likely to be 8 to 12 sessions.

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT)

Mindfulness-based therapies help you focus on your thoughts and feelings as they happen, moment by moment.

MBCT is used to help prevent depression coming back, and to help some types of anxiety and stress.

MBCT combines mindfulness techniques like meditation and breathing exercises with cognitive therapy, which is about learning how to manage your thoughts and how they make you feel.

Find out more:

  • mindfulness
  • Every Mind Matters: self-help cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) techniques

Psychodynamic psychotherapy

Psychodynamic psychotherapy looks at how childhood experiences and thoughts you’re not aware of (your subconscious mind) affect your thinking, feelings, relationships and behaviour today.

You talk to a therapist, one-on-one, about your thoughts and feelings. This type of talking therapy may be offered for around 16 sessions.

Short-term psychodynamic psychotherapy (STPP) may be offered on the NHS to people who have depression or depression plus a long-term health condition.

Couple therapy

Couple therapy can help people who have depression that may be linked to problems in their relationship with their partner. It’s sometimes called behavioural couple therapy (BCT) or couple therapy for depression (CTfD).

Couple therapy usually includes 15 to 20 sessions over 5 to 6 months.

It may be offered by an IAPT service if other therapies, like CBT, have not helped. Your partner will need to be willing to go through therapy with you.

Video: Psychological therapies for stress, anxiety and depression

Animated video explaining self-referral to psychological therapies services for stress, anxiety or depression.