Assessing psychological support for people with complex emotional needs: The SPS study.

When people experience long-term mental distress and difficulties coping with relationships it can reduce their quality of life and lead to social exclusion. People with these problems often have high levels of contact with mental health services but the care they receive can be poor.

National guidelines recommend that people with these complex emotional needs are offered evidence-based psychological treatments. These last between one and two years and require people to attend therapy groups on a regular basis. Many people who are offered these intensive treatments are unable to commit to using them and many who do them drop out before completing them.

In an effort to increase the number of people that receive effect treatment, clinicians have begun to develop lower intensity treatments. However, we do not have good quality evidence about whether they help patients in the long term or provide value for money.

About the study

We are conducting the ‘SPS study’ to examine the role of low intensity psychological support in helping people with complex emotional needs. Patients will be recruited from primary and secondary care mental health services in Avon, Buckinghamshire, Coventry, Derbyshire, East Lincolnshire, Merseyside, Oxfordshire, Warwickshire, Wiltshire, and North West London. We will randomise people who take part in the study to either ‘Structured Psychological Support’ (SPS) or to ‘treatment as usual’ which includes the development of a crisis plan. In addition to this, people who take part in the study will continue to be able to access other services, apart from psychological treatments aimed at complex emotional needs. Structured Psychological Support involves six to 10 sessions of advice and support. During the sessions, patients are helped to use psychological skills to manage their difficulties, such as steps they can take to reduce mental distress and tackle relationship problems.

We will compare the effects that SPS and crisis plans have on people’s work and other activities, mental health and quality of life over a 12 month period.

By taking part in the study, people will help us to get a better understanding of how mental health services can provide better support for people with complex emotional needs in the future.

Additional information

  • Sponsor: Imperial College London
  • Funder: National Institute for Health Research’s Health Technology Assessment Programme
  • Ethical approval: London-Bromley Research Ethics Committee
  • Lead SPS Study Team: Prof. Mike Crawford (Chief Investigator), Dr. Verity Leeson (Clinical Trial Manager), Miss Snehal Pandya (Senior Clinical Trials Coordinator.

Contact details

For further information please contact the SPS Study Team at Imperial via email or phone 020 7594 3253.