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Pedder, J.R. (1996). Psychotherapy in the British National Health Service: a short history. Free Associations, 6(1):14-27.

(1996). Free Associations, 6(1):14-27


Psychotherapy in the British National Health Service: a short history

Jonathan R. Pedder


This brief outline sketch of the history of psychotherapy in the NHS was an introduction to a half-day session on ‘Psychotherapy in the Health Service’. It is argued that the history of psychotherapy in the NHS cannot be seen in perspective without considering psychotherapy both before the inception of the NHS as well as since, and without considering psychotherapy outside the NHS as well as within, since the links between the two are vital in many areas. The demand for psychotherapy outside the NHS is probably strong partly because of the poor provision within.

It is necessary to consider different levels of psychotherapy (Cawley, 1977); the many varieties of psychotherapy, individual and group, family and marital, behavioural and cognitive; and also the many disciplines involved in the delivery of psychotherapy of various kinds on various levels. Although psychotherapy has developed as a separate (medical) specialty within psychiatry, many other disciplines are also involved. The contributions of the different disciplines is considered briefly; for example by doctors, whether psychiatrists or general practitioners, by psychologists, social workers, and child psychotherapists. Finally, it is noted that de facto a new discipline of adult (nonmedical) psychotherapist appears to be emerging within the NHS.

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