Making IAPT services work for people with learning disabilities

Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) services intend to ensure that there is equal access to therapy for everyone. Despite this intention, people with learning disabilities (who are 40% more likely to experience a mental health problem) were not equally supported by IAPT.

In the past three years the Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities (FPLD) has sought to address this.

So what is IAPT? The IAPT programme in England is one of the largest mental health programmes in the world. It aims to increase the provision of evidence-based treatments for people experiencing anxiety and depression and to get people off sick benefits and back into work.

Since 2008, there has been an IAPT service in every clinical commissioning group: 5,000 therapists have been trained, 2 million people have entered treatment, 1.2 million have completed treatment and 78,000 people have come off sickness benefits. The IAPT programme has also been rolled out to all ages, rather than just focusing on people of working age.

FPLD developed innovative approaches to address barriers to accessing IAPT services for people with learning disabilities. Our work brought together IAPT and community teams for learning disabilities (CTLD) services and used action learning set methodology to help partnership work to improve access for people with learning disabilities.

The teams involved in the FPLD programme developed reasonable adjustments and different models of working that greatly impacted on their clinical practice when working with people with learning disabilities. All participants reported that some of the reasonable adjustments to their clinical practice had increased their efficacy with all their clients.

The programme made the following key recommendations (among others):


  • Clearer statements of inclusion, by National IAPT, for people with learning disabilities.



  • Recording systems that allow for monitoring of access to IAPT for people with learning disabilities.



  • Training for qualification of PWPs and other IAPT therapists to include material on working with people with learning disabilities, where possible delivered with the involvement of people with learning disabilities.



  • Pathways for joint working between IAPT services and local specialist learning disability services.



  • Clear goals and targets regarding use of IAPT by people with learning disabilities specified by commissioners and funded appropriately.


The project is launching the new Learning Disabilities: IAPT Positive Practice Guide which we hope will support better practice and increase IAPT staff confidence in supporting people with learning disabilities.

For many people with learning disabilities who experience anxiety or depression, accessing their IAPT services should be the first port of call and yet people are not aware of them and do not always think they are suitable candidates for such a service.

We hope our work in this area addresses this and in the future we will see more people with learning disabilities accessing their local IAPT service.






  • For more information contact Christine-Koulla Burke, FPLD access to IAPT Programme Lead at [email protected]