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, 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. 336 patients have been 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 have randomly allocated our participants to either ‘Structured Psychological Support’ (SPS) or to ‘treatment as usual’ which includes the development of a crisis plan. In addition to this, our participants 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, participants 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, our participants 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.

Results are expected in Summer 2025.

Additional information

Contact details

For further information please contact the SPS Study Team at Imperial via email