Eight treatments for tackling mental health issues

Fifteen million working days were lost to mental health-related issues in 2013 and it remains one of the biggest causes of long-term sickness absence.1

Historically, the stigma surrounding mental illness have often acted as barriers for employees to seek the proper help or treatment.

However, attitudes are changing and there is a wide range of options available for individuals who need help. These treatments can range from arts therapy to cognitive behavioural therapy, helping to alleviate the symptoms or address the root causes for a number of conditions.

It is important to seek expert advice before undertaking any course of treatment, as suitability will depend on the problem, the circumstances and the person themselves, but a number of policies, from PMI to EAPs and even cash plans, now make provision for mental health treatment.

1. Cognitive behavioural therapy

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a short-term therapy that can be particularly effective in dealing with issues such as depression or anxiety.

It aims to help individuals to alter negative thought processes by focusing on how they think about their problems and what effect this has both physically and emotionally. CBT tells us we can often jump to unhelpful conclusions when we're feeling low and attempts to change negative thought patterns by encouraging us not to engage with these thoughts.

A course tends to involve one session a week for between six weeks and six months, during which time the therapist will explore the individuals problems, develop a plan for tackling them and teach a set of principles that can be applied whenever they are needed.

2. Cognitive analytic therapy

 Cognitive analytic therapy (CAT) is a short-term relational therapy and predominantly looks at how unhelpful relationship patterns have been developed from early childhood experiences.

This form of therapy aims to discover how problems and difficulties started and how they affect everyday life, including relationships, work and the choices made to get the best out of life.

It can be used to tackle relationship issues, attachment issues, eating disorders, personality disorders or problems stemming from past abuse or neglect but tends to avoid diagnosis in favour of naming what previously-learned patterns of thinking or behaving contribute to difficulties and finding new ways of addressing them.

3. Person-centred counselling

 Person-centred counselling or person-centred therapy is commonly used to treat a number of issues, including depression, anxiety, bereavement, addiction, sexuality, anger and transitions in life.

It favours the creation of a supportive and facilitative environment for the individual to talk about their problems, rather than a more direct, structured approach. The therapist allows the individual to choose the direction of therapy for themselves, facilitating this decision by asking questions to help them clarify what they think and how they feel.

Counselling, advice and support are available to both employers and employees as a key part of Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) in order to tackle a range of personal and work-related issues.

4. Mindfulness

 Heavy workloads and busy personal lives mean it can be easy for people to rush through life without stopping to take anything in. Mindfulness teaches us to pay more attention to the present moment in order to be more aware of our thoughts, feelings and the world around us.

It incorporates techniques such as meditation, breathing and yoga in order to help us become more aware of our thoughts and feelings in a non-judgmental manner.

Mindfulness courses are typically short-term but the lessons and practices learned can be applied  at any time. It has been shown to be particularly effective at alleviating the 'tunnel vision' that can result from being stressed, busy or tired and reducing workplace burnout.

5. Gestalt therapy

 Gestalt therapy also draws on elements of mindfulness in order to  develop non-judgemental self-awareness. However, it is also based on the belief that self-awareness can become blocked by negative thought patterns and behaviour that can leave people feeling dissatisfied and unhappy.

The individual is encouraged to discover feelings that may have been suppressed or masked by other feelings and to accept and trust their emotions. Needs and emotions that were previously suppressed or unacknowledged are likely to surface as well and past experiences will be confronted as part of therapy.

6. Arts therapy

 This involves use of the arts - including music, dance and drama - in a therapeutic environment to help the individual express themselves, particularly when they find it difficult to do so using words.

The therapist will attempt to help the individual think about what they create from an emotional perspective and how this relates to feelings and experiences in order to come to terms with negative emotions or difficult memories.

Afterwards, they may talk about the thoughts and feelings that came up during the session and how the individual feels in the aftermath. However, some people find the process in itself helpful in dealing with mental health problems.


Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is often used for treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which can occur after traumatic incidents including physical assault or accidents.

Sessions can last up to 90 minutes and will involve the therapist moving their fingers back and forth in front of the individual's face, while they recall a disturbing event and discuss the feelings associated with it. Sometimes Some therapists hand or toe-tapping or musical tones will be used as an alternative to finger movement.

Gradually, the therapist will guide the individual to shift their thoughts to more pleasant ones and will ask the individual to rate their level of distress after each session in the hope that disturbing memories will become easier to deal with.

8. Family therapy

Sometimes called family and systemic psychotherapy, this helps people to deal with their problems by working with the whole relationship system rather than just the individual. This can be helpful when mental health problems have impacted upon the individual's family too.

It enables family members to express and explore difficult thoughts and emotions safely, better understand each other’s experiences and views and appreciate each other’s needs.

Ultimately, the aim is to build on any strengths and make helpful changes in order to improve relationships and find a way forward that works for all parties.


1 http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/dcp171776_353899.pdf