Accessing talking therapy is a crucial element in treating mental health problems. Therapy is known to help the majority of mental health conditions, and at the very least, is usually able to lessen the symptoms present.

Therapy offers a range of benefits. But one important choice that a patient needs to make is whether or not to access therapy through the NHS, or privately.

The majority of people will not have a choice due to the cost of private therapy. But some people will have a choice. This article is to do with this choice.

Neither of the two are necessarily “better” than the other, though different circumstances a person is facing may influence their decision. This article looks at some of the different considerations to take into account.

Most people will use the NHS for talking therapy

What is talking therapy?

Put simply, talking therapy is a psychological treatment that involves a person talking with a trained mental health professional about their problems. The mental health professional will work with their patient to try and find practical solutions to problems.

There are a huge range of different talking therapies. The most common types of therapies include Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Psychoanalytical Psychotherapy and Interpersonal Therapy – though so many other forms exist.

The NHS offers free therapy for those living in the United Kingdom. It is funded by British taxpayers. Private therapy involves those using therapists not working for the NHS. Therefore, it is not free.

It is normal to enter therapy with plenty of questions – we have put together an FAQ article to answer many popular questions. We also have an article on Everything You Need To Know About Talking Therapy.

Types of therapy

Those that use the NHS will only get a limited choice of therapies. Typically, there are around 6 main therapies used. Choice is therefore rather limited. In many cases, the decision will be made for the patient by the psychological service.

However, those that use private therapy will get an extensive choice. There are around 30 types of therapy to choose from. As a person is paying, they can choose the exact type of therapy they want.


As mentioned, the therapy offered by the NHS is free. This is part of the incredible services provided by the NHS as a whole. While you won’t be able to receive treatment for years on end, you will have access to plenty of treatment.

When getting private therapy, the cost can range hugely. Prices typically start at around £30 per hour, though this is likely to rise further, depending on how much the therapist charges. Costs are typically £40-60, though each therapist will have their own price.


The NHS has a limited number of sessions available to patients. These will typically be around 6-12. This does depend though on the condition and symptoms that a person has. Sadly, therapy isn’t a bottomless pit on the NHS.

However, with private therapy, the patient is able to dictate how long they wish for the therapy to go on for. As they are paying for a service, they are the ones in charge. Some people will want a block of around 6-10 weekly sessions, while others remain in therapy for years.

Waiting times

The NHS does often involve significant waiting times. There is an enormous demand for therapy services in the United Kingdom, but a shortage of resources. Therefore, waiting times are common.

On average, a person will expect to wait around 3-4 weeks between being referred and being able to book an appointment. The exact length of time depends on a number of factors, including the location the patient is living.

For private therapy, there are usually no waiting times. The patient will need to find a therapist they want to work with. If they find someone, the therapist will usually be able to fit them in.

But waiting times are possible if the therapist is popular, and not taking on further clients. If this does happen though, there will be other therapists available. Therefore, there is no need for waiting times when going private.

Choosing a therapist

The NHS will provide a patient with a therapist. The good thing with this is that you can be assured that they are qualified. They will have been thoroughly vetted. They should be highly-skilled.

However, with the private sector, this is not guaranteed. Using an online directory that is accredited is usually fine, but you may wish to ask to see their qualifications, or read some reviews about them. Unfortunately – anyone can call themselves a therapist. It is important to be careful when selecting a private therapist. For further information, you can read our dedicated article on this subject here.

Personalised service

A therapist with the NHS will often have dozens of patients on their book at any one time. Therefore, they will not typically be able to provide a highly-personalised service.

However, a patient will normally get a more personalised experience when it comes to a private therapist. This is because they would only be one of a handful of patients for a private therapist, therefore making it easier to manage.


Some people will wish to be prescribed some medicine. The useful thing about the NHS is that the patient will have normally been referred by a GP. A GP is able to prescribed basic medicines, like antidepressants.

However, with private therapy, therapists generally don’t have the power to be able to write prescriptions. Therefore, getting medication can be more challenging for those getting private therapy.

Group therapy

When using the NHS, there is a high chance that the patient will need to do a group-based therapy. This is where therapy is delivered in a classroom to around 6-15 people. This is usually due to cost constraints.

However, private therapy will never be conducted in a group. Instead, it is always guaranteed that a patient will always have the full and undivided attention of the therapist.

Life commitments

It is also important to remember than NHS therapists typically work usual office hours of 9-5, though some evening classes may be possible – but these are rare. This means that accessing therapy can be difficult for anyone working full time.

However, with private therapy, therapists will usually have a range of times they can offer, including evenings and potentially even weekends – though this may come at an additional cost. It will be worth discussing with a therapist.


Reading this article, you may feel that we are seemingly more pro-private therapy. However, this isn’t true. The truth is that the NHS offers an incredible service, and we are very lucky that it exists. Due to the finance involved, many people won’t be able to even consider private therapy.

But for those that can afford private therapy, there are a number of additional benefits available, as this article has shown. Ultimately, what works for one person won’t necessarily work for another.

The aim is to use therapy to improve our mental health and general wellbeing. Regardless of the type of therapy used, this remains the aim. Getting to that point is the most important part.



This website should be used purely for informational purposes, and does not intend to, nor should it ever, be used as a replacement for professional medical advice.

We strive to keep all of our pages updated, and ensure that our website is full of factual and in-depth information. However, we encourage you to browse this website with care.

As a reminder, this website and all content within it cannot and should not replace the advice of a trained medical professional. You can read our full disclaimer at this link.


If you are struggling with your mental health, help is available. With the right support and treatment, you can make a recovery. For information on helplines, or if you are in a state of crisis, please visit our crisis page by clicking on the relevant link for your geographical location (United Kingdom), (United States), (International). You can also see how to get mental health treatment and the process involved by clicking this link.