Improving Access to Psychological Therapies for people with learning disabilities

Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) has been a Government initiative since 2010.

IAPT aims to improve people’s access to psychological therapies through the NHS. People with learning disabilities have, in the past, not been seen as being ‘able to benefit' from talking therapies as a treatment for mental health conditions, and we want to change that.

We are working in partnership with King's College London on a project to try to understand how psychological therapy services can be tailored to better meet the needs of people with learning disabilities, so that they can access them like everybody else.


The ‘No Health without Mental Health’ strategy aims for inclusivity of mainstream services for people with learning disabilities and autism.

It has been estimated that up to 40% of people with learning disabilities experience mental health difficulties and, despite their vulnerability, they are often unable to get support from appropriate services. IAPT services strive to be accessible to this group of people, but many continue to be excluded.

The IAPT taskforce has produced guidance for working with people with learning disabilities, advising how IAPT services can make "reasonable adjustments" to help improve access to psychological therapies. However, the response of IAPT services to this guidance and the challenge of including learning disabled clients has not been evaluated. 

Our work

The work by the Foundation and King's College is funded by the Department of Health and has two major aims:

  1. To look at the barriers experienced by people with learning disabilities in accessing IAPT services and to find examples of good practice.
  2. To develop innovative approaches to address these inequalities by using action learning sets, made up of practitioners from IAPT and Community Teams for people with Learning Disabilities (CTLD) representing four parts of England.

By the end of the project we aim to have increased the knowledge of IAPT staff around the needs of people with learning disabilities and social communication disorders, as well as ensure that there are clear and easy ways for people with learning disabilities to access these services in the future.

Learning from the demonstration projects in each site will be disseminated nationally, and we will evaluate and update the guidance at the end of the project.

As part of this work, King's College London and the Foundation have produced a report (PDF) outlining how people with learning disabilities currently use IAPT. There is also an easy read executive summary (PDF) of this report.

We are also working on a project to improve access to all mental health services (not just psychological therapies) provided to people with learning disabilities to assess their accessibility and effectiveness.

For further information please contact Christine Burke: [email protected].