Group counselling as effective as one-on-one for mild-to-moderate mental health conditions, research finds

Offering more ‘group therapy’ could help cut waiting lists for mental health services, new research finds.

The research, by Economics NZ and commissioned by Hearts & Minds, found that group therapy was as clinically effective as one-on-one counselling for people with mild-to-moderate mental health conditions.

Hearts & Minds chief executive Carol Ryan said group counselling was also much more cost-effective, being a third or less of the cost of one-on-one counselling.

“This research highlights that a group therapy approach has the potential to improve access to treatment for many people with mild-to-moderate mental health conditions,” she said.

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The research, which was launched at Parliament last week, found that four out of five people who completed a group therapy course with Hearts & Minds reported coping better afterwards.

“It is a clinically effective, and cost-effective, way to treat many people with conditions such as anxiety, stress and trauma,” Ryan said.

One-on-one counselling is three times more expensive than group sessions, and their can be long waiting lists.

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One-on-one counselling is three times more expensive than group sessions, and their can be long waiting lists.

The research found there could be significant economic benefits to New Zealand from using group therapy as part of an early intervention approach to mild-to-moderate mental health conditions.

“The research found the economic payback of group therapy was $4.70 for every $1 spent. This pay back came from people becoming well enough to go back to work, or becoming more productive at work.”

Early intervention helped stop people tipping over into more severe illness, which was harder and more expensive to treat, Ryan said.

Hearts & Minds had health navigation services which offered one-on-one support to navigate several agencies to get help more quickly.

Hearts & Minds is a not-for-profit that offers mental health services in north Auckland and Northland. It commissioned the research to highlight the clinical and economic benefits of its group therapy, and other services.

“We’d like health funders to read this research and to consider the clinical and economic benefits of early intervention and group therapy,” she said.

“Currently many people with mild-to-moderate conditions were directed to traditional one-on-one counselling by their GPs.

“However, even after a recent significant boost to funding of mental health services, there can be long waiting lists to see counsellors. This means some people aren’t getting the help they need,” Ryan said.

“This research shows that expanding the use of group therapy and other community-based services could be one way to reduce waiting lists for many people with mild-to-moderate conditions. It could also help make the mental health budget stretch further.”

A spokesperson for Health Minister Andrew Little said he attended the Hearts & Minds event at parliament.

The research that was presented at the event supported the Government’s view that early mental health interventions could help with re-entry into the workforce, help family carers to maintain their own employment and wellbeing, and help to reduce crime and anti-social behaviour, she said.

The Government’s flagship Budget 2019 Access and Choice programme had put free mental health services that did not exist before in GP clinics, Kaupapa Māori, Pacific and Youth settings – which could include individual and groups sessions.

More than 500,000 Access and Choice sessions had been delivered across more than 400 providers, and there are now more than 1100 more people working on the front lines of primary mental health.

“It is only three years into this five-year programme, but there’s already been huge change, and it’s making a real difference for thousands of New Zealanders,” she said.

Hearts & Minds presented the research at Parliament last week, with Health Minister Andrew Little in attendance.

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Hearts & Minds presented the research at Parliament last week, with Health Minister Andrew Little in attendance.