Tuesday 27 September 2016

Doctors' lack of knowledge about psychological therapies revealed

Published 16/11/2015 | 02:30

Part of the reason for the high referral rate to psychiatrists is the GPs’ own lack of knowledge about psychological therapies
Part of the reason for the high referral rate to psychiatrists is the GPs’ own lack of knowledge about psychological therapies

A patient who goes to a GP with mental health concerns is more likely to end up being sent to a psychiatrist than a psychologist because many doctors are unfamiliar with "talk therapies".

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This is despite the fact that some patients would be more appropriately dealt with by a psychologist or trained counsellor.

Part of the reason for the high referral rate to psychiatrists is the GPs' own lack of knowledge about psychological therapies, according to research led by psychologist Veronica Cullinan and the School of Applied Psychology in UCC.

A survey of GPs asked them which referral options they were likely to take for patients with psychological problems. Referring a patient to a psychiatrist was the most widely used option with 94pc of GPs having chosen this, followed by counsellors at 69pc, psychologists at 60pc and psychotherapists at 30pc.

The findings are important because GPs are frequently the first medical professionals that people with psychological stress go to and they are seen as important "gatekeepers". The GPs surveyed said around one in five of their patients had a mental health issue.

When asked about their knowledge of psychotherapies - beyond seeing a psychiatrist - their knowledge was quite low.

"Cognitive behavioural therapy was the type of approach GPs were most familiar with," said the study in the 'Irish Journal of Psychological Medicine'.

However, less than a third said they had any in-depth knowledge of what it involved.

Most of the GPs felt they did not have enough information on the number and type of psychological therapists available in their area.

Separate data from psychologists found that only 39pc inform GPs they are working in their area. Out of these, 28pc indicated they would inform GPs on the type of therapy offered, 48pc would also include information on their qualifications, 20pc on their professional training, 26pc on their professional experience, and 38pc on the types of mental health issues they dealt with.

This information would also help overcome reservations that GPs may have about psychologists or counsellors' level of training. These could deter them from sending a patient to the service.

The research found a key barrier GPs may experience in the referral of patients is the lack of standardisation of training and qualification requirements across psychological therapists.

This could lead to potentially vulnerable patients putting their trust in a psychological therapist with the "most effective advertising, rather than the most appropriate qualifications and experience".

Ms Cullinan said: "There is still much work to be done building bridges between GPs and psychological therapists."

Irish Independent

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