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UK therapists predict a ‘five-year effect’ from COVID-19, but say the pandemic has opened up access to therapy

18 Jun UK therapists predict a ‘five-year effect’ from COVID-19, but say the pandemic has opened up access to therapy

The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) today publishes its inaugural Mindometer report, the largest survey of 4,923 UK therapists since the start of the pandemic. The result is a contrasting picture of a negative mental health legacy but an improved openness to seek help when needed.

51% of BACP members think we will continue to see the impact of this pandemic on people’s mental health for up to five years, with a further third (36%) believing the impact could last even longer. The Mindometer report revealed that 93% of therapists have perceived an increased mental strain in the general population. Whilst anxiety (87%), stress/feeling overwhelmed (82%) and loneliness/social isolation (72%) are the top three most commonly presented problems, our therapists report a shift in the problems, including people presenting with mental health issues for the first time in their lives.

* Almost half (46%) of therapists say incidences of trauma have increased
* A quarter (26%) of therapists have seen an increase in eating disorders
* Two-thirds (65%) of therapists have seen an increase in relationship pressures and breakdowns
* A fifth (20%) of therapists reported seeing an increase in addiction, addictive behaviours to substances or substance misuse,
* 7% have seen an increase in addiction to the internet. One in 20 therapists (5%) also reported seeing an increase in gaming addiction
* A quarter (26%) of therapists have seen an increase in obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
However, there are also some positives. The pandemic has seen more people seek the support they need through therapy and 72% of therapists believe that people are now more open to having therapy than they were before the pandemic, an important measure in banishing the stigma that still surrounds poor mental health. Additionally, 82% of therapists state online/remote working has made therapy more accessible to both existing clients and people seeking therapy for the first time. This is due to the greater flexibility and choice to prospective clients, who can now pick from therapists from all over the country as they deal with the impact of COVID-19.

While this accessibility to counselling is welcomed, there are still challenges that need to be addressed. 80% of the respondents say demand for therapy is either full or over capacity at the practice or service they work in. This will result in longer waiting lists and a lag in people getting the help they need.

Commenting on the launch of the Mindometer report, Hadyn Williams, Chief Executive at the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, said:

“While our therapists were getting to grips with the huge mental health challenges facing the general population, their skills, expertise and resilience over the last year have undoubtedly changed lives.”

“As the UK’s largest professional association of counselling professionals, we have had a unique opportunity to look at the expert insights from our therapists into the ‘five-year effect’ of lockdown and future challenges to the UK general population’s mental health.

“The report findings underline just how critical it is to have access to therapeutic support in the nation’s mental health recovery.
We must continue to strive to increase access to therapy to all who need support.”

Increase in demand for therapy

Since the pandemic, 71% of therapists reported an increase in the number of enquiries or referrals for their services since the start of the pandemic, of which 47% saw an increase in the number of sessions from existing clients and 65% saw an increase in clients presenting with complex needs.

Commenting on the increased demand for therapy, Louise Tyler, BACP accredited counsellor, said:

“Social groups and activities that people relied on for connection may still be dormant, exam results are still uncertain, event and travel plans are precarious. People are fearful about jobs and businesses.

“Loss and grief are still pervasive. We can’t just bounce back magically. Even if socially, economically or health-wise we’ve been privileged enough to remain protected, we’re not immune to others suffering. There’s been and will continue to be a massive reset in how we live our lives. All these things mean that the demand for counselling is likely to remain high.”

Impact on therapists themselves

With the increase in demand for therapy during this challenging time, the Mindometer report explores the impact the past 15 months have had on therapists themselves. The survey found:

* Nearly half (44%) of therapists feel more stressed and overwhelmed since the beginning of the pandemic.
* Almost one in five (18%) therapists feel more depressed or hopeless.
* 59% of therapists have found the impact of ‘Zoom fatigue’ challenging over time

However, despite these challenges 82% of therapists have found online therapy and being more accessible to be a positive or rewarding experience of working remotely.

Widening access to therapy

The Mindometer report highlights the profound impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the nation’s mental health and, according to BACP members, this will continue to be felt for several years to come.

To meet this demand and ensure that anyone struggling with their mental health and wellbeing can access a qualified therapist, BACP’s priority is to widen access to therapy through a range of settings – such as the NHS, schools and workplaces – across all four nations of the UK. The recommendations in the report include:

1. Counselling and psychotherapy need to be integral in the UK Governments’ long-term mental health response to COVID-19.

1. Greater investment to increase access to therapy and access to a wider choice of therapies on the NHS and in community settings in all four nations of the UK.

1. A counsellor for every secondary school, college and academy in England.

1. Increasing access to counselling through workplaces.

1. Increasing access to counselling for under-represented communities.