Tag Archives: NICE

Dr Rex Haigh ~ Has CBT killed the human spirit?

The following post is written by Dr Rex Haigh, blogger for Struggling to Be Human: what we’re up against, originally posted on 17 June 2012 entitled ‘Has CBT killed the human spirit?‘.

Much as psychoanalysis set the cultural tone for our understanding and conduct of relationships for most of the twentieth century, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) has been leading us into a much less forgiving place for the last twenty years or so.

CBT Circle

In the world of psychotherapy, CBT has numerous siblings and cousins: most with three letter abbreviations to make a multiflavoured soup of ‘alphabetti spaghetti therapies’. Two flavours of the month are Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT)  and Menatlisation Based Therapy (MBT). DBT, with its trendy ‘mindfulness’ plus new age and hippy edge, give its authoritarianism a warm fuzzy feeling; mentalisation has considerable weight of respectability afforded to it by years of attachment research in the experimental psychology departments of prominent universities – and charismatic professors with superstar status to market it. There are many other manualised and packaged ‘new therapies’, easily findable with your favourite search engine. But my overwhelming feeling is that they are all missing the point, and engaged in a pointless horse race with celebrity status prizes for the academics who reduce the interventions to dumbed-down therapy cookbooks, and then make sure everybody is following the recipes with multivariate statistical analyses backed up by powerful regulators like NICE. To me, this all seems like a very elaborate, somewhat sinister and ruthlessly inexorable way of taking the essential human qualities of the therapeutic relationship out of the picture.


It feels like these ways of working are all fashions of the moment – holding onto the coat tails of …of what? That is the big puzzle. All sorts of vaguely pejorative words and phrases get bandied about by malcontents like myself – without understanding the precise definitions – such as reductionism, materialism, biogenic dogmatism, logical positivism, determinism, behaviourism, scientism, alienating modernity, market managerialism. The best one I’ve seen lately is instrumental rationality: “A specific form of rationality focusing on the most efficient or cost-effective means to achieve a specific end, but not in itself reflecting on the value of that end”.

At its root, at least from where I stand at the moment, seems to be the need for certainty – and the fear of chaos that would ensue were we not able to measure, predict and control everything in our working lives. It is interesting indeed that complexity – what we have to deal with on multiple levels in our work every day – is only a step away from chaos, and indeed ‘creative chaos’ is an important ingredient of therapeutic communities, and perhaps all group therapies. Along with ‘therapeutic ordinariness’ and Keats’ Negative Capability (being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason) we seem to be in the world of the romantic poets, postmodernists, and idealists – dealing with moral philosophy, semiotics and aesthetics. Truth and love and beauty, maybe, rather than rigour and technique and effectiveness.

I would maintain anywhere that we need all of both sets of values in the world of the complex and often chaotic systems that determine human development, and we confront daily in psychotherapeutic work. We need multivariate regressions, p-values and confidence intervals for instrumental reasons – but they should be our tools rather than our purpose. Perhaps complexity and chaos theories could provide a conceptual, and even mathematical, bridge between these two worlds.

After an ill-tempered social meeting with two senior colleagues, and months of fighting the ‘corporate machine’ in my day job I think these considerations have wider relevance – in academia, public policy and health service management. What links them may be the impossibility of allowing any human being working in these systems to trust another – an no longer allowing people to hold that uncertainty, rather than algorithms and risk registers.

Universities are now run by financial considerations where the security of grant income subordinates everything else: they have to ‘play it safe’. We end up with students mounting legal challenges when they do not agree with the results when their work is marked, and researchers who produce numerous programmes, projects and papers with very little real value – and only need to show that their strategy does not cause any risk to the projected income stream.

In public policy, it is utterly unacceptable for anybody in the civil service to admit any failing – however small – that might reflect ill on their political masters. When we have a colossal failing – such as the absence of anything that is genuinely psychotherapeutic in the statutory structures of the whole of a country’s mental health system – then the conspiracy of silence is utterly deafening…

In the corporate world of NHS Foundation Trusts, a similarly sanitised version of reality is all that is allowed to be released for public consumption. When everybody knows that real cuts are being made, it cannot be spoken – even in letters to medical colleagues. Presumably it would be a ‘reputation risk’ for the truth to be acknowledged.

But this ugly truth – of the way we are so often not allowed to relate to each other as human beings any more – might even go to the core of the current global malaise. I met an economics undergraduate the other day, and he was explaining to me the depth of mathematical and statistical techniques that he is struggling to learn. The bursting of ‘debt bubble’, from which we are all now suffering, was built on sophisticated algorithms which allowed financial risk to be packaged and sold at lightning speed, with no intervening human thought about sustainability, or feeling that something morally wrong was being done. Is it not this chicanery, and the political systems which underpin it, that need to be exposed and dismantled?

The answer, I hope, is in the philosophy of greencare. Not particularly in the details of therapeutic horticulture, animal assisted interventions or care farming, but in the better use of land, air, soil, water, sunshine and each other for our mental health; the realisation that we need to live sustainably in a finite world; that mental health care is not scalable like an industrial process; and that it’s only relationships between each other that really matter.

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Dr Rex Haigh FRCPsych

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Chris Sampson: Generic benefit measurement – the key to better mental health research

The NHS can’t afford to fund every new medical treatment. Budgets are limited. Resources are finite. It’s a boring fact of life, from which people like me – economists – benefit. In recent years the UK has championed the provision of cost-effective healthcare. The efficiency of the NHS owes no small thanks to NICE, which evaluates health technologies for all kinds of conditions. To do so they need to be able to compare these technologies with each other. The general consensus amongst health economists, and the approach adopted by NICE, is to use quality-adjusted life years (QALYs). QALYs are required by the NICE reference case and we have excellent tools such as the EQ-5D to capture these. The use of QALYs as an outcome is almost ubiquitous in the evaluation of health technologies. So much so that they have come to define cost-effectiveness. The area in which their use and study appears most limited is in mental health research. Herein lies a problem: from the decision-makers perspective, not knowing whether an intervention is cost-effective isn’t all that different from knowing that it isn’t.

Generic preference-based measures

Health technologies are competing for the same pot of NHS money and are therefore pitted against each other, regardless of dissimilarities in the conditions they treat. We therefore need an outcome measure that is relevant to all conditions; from baldness to bunions; abdominal pain to Zellweger syndrome. We need an outcome measure that is ‘generic’. For economists (and to some extent decision-makers), preferences are paramount. A hypothetical change in an individual’s health only matters if they (or, in practice, the public) actually assign any value to this health change. As such, the last few decades have witnessed the rise of generic preference-based measures. The EQ-5D is the most well-know of these, but others do exist. These measures enable researchers to calculate the benefits of an intervention in terms of quality and length of life – combined in to one number. Decision-makers are then presented with an illuminating ‘cost-per-QALY’ of an intervention. Such a minimalist result is of great value in funding decisions. Unfortunately, in many cases, economic evaluations in mental health are not armed with this figure. This is no doubt detrimental to future provision and research.

Condition-specific preference-based measures

Mental health researchers’ apparent unawareness of generic preference-based measures is justifiable. The EQ-5D, for example, only includes a single question relating to mental health. There are also greater methodological problems with using generic preference-based measures in mental health; are public values representative of patients’ preferences; can severe patients understand the questions; are ‘general’ questions even relevant? There are certainly pros and cons to using a measure like the EQ-5D in mental health research1.

Fortunately there’s a happy medium that still allows for the calculation of QALYs and, therefore, the generic valuation of mental health technologies. Condition-specific preference-based measures. These measures capture changes in an individual’s quality of life based on dimensions relevant to specific conditions. The development of a preference-based measure involves two stages: development of the classification system (questionnaire) and the elicitation of values. Unfortunately most existing measures have only completed the first stage. Nonetheless, measures do exist and I implore you to research them further, get involved in their development and include them in your studies. There are measures under development that are specific to particular mental health problems, such as DEMQOL: a quality of life measure for individuals with dementia2. Some of the most promising work relates to the development of preference-based measures that are specific to mental health but general across disorders. This work includes development of a preference-based measure from the CORE-OM3,4.

Where next?

Unfortunately these measures are almost solely employed and researched by economists. Researchers involved in the evaluation of interventions for mental health need to champion these measures, as economists alone cannot. If you’re a researcher, why not try to include fledgling preference-based measures (both general and condition-specific) in your studies, and aid their development. Cost-effectiveness is often an ‘unknown’ in mental health. This is no longer acceptable. If mental health research and care is to obtain the funding it needs, then researchers will have to bend to accommodate these methods and engage with economists. If you do nothing else please read this5, then read this6, and do not forget to read this7. The long-term benefits could be huge.

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Chris Sampson
Health economist
University of Nottingham
E: chris.sampson@nottingham.ac.uk


1 Brazier, J., 2010. Is the EQ-5D fit for purpose in mental health? The British Journal of Psychiatry, 197(5), pp.348-9.

2 Mulhern, B., Smith, S.C., Rowen, D., Brazier, J.E., Knapp, M., Lamping, D.L., Loftus, V., Young, T.A., Howard, R.J. and Banerjee, S. (2010) Improving the measurement of QALYs in dementia: Developing patient- and carer-reported health state classification systems using Rasch analysis. Discussion Paper. (Unpublished)

3 Mavranezouli, I., Brazier, J.E., Young, T.A. and Barkham, M. (2011) Using Rasch analysis to form plausible health states amenable to valuation: the development of CORE-6D from CORE-OM in order to elicit preferences for common mental health problems. Quality of Life Research, 20 (3). pp. 321-333. ISSN 1573-2649

4 Mavranezouli, I, Brazier, JE, Rowen, D and Barkham, M (2011) Estimating a preference-based index from the Clinical Outcomes in Routine Evaluation – Outcome Measure (CORE-OM): valuation of CORE-6D. Discussion Paper. (Unpublished)

5 Brazier, J., 2008. Measuring and valuing mental health for use in economic evaluation. Journal of health services research & policy, 13 Suppl 3, pp.70-5.

6 Jacobs, R., 2009. Investigating Patient Outcome Measures in Mental Health. CHE Research Paper 48, Centre For Health Economics: York

7 Chisholm, D., Healey, A. & Knapp, M., 1997. QALYs and mental health care. Social psychiatry and psychiatric epidemiology, 32(2), pp.68-75.

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