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Br J Gen Pract. Mar 1998; 48(428): 1043–1048.
PMCID: PMC1410004

A randomized controlled trial and economic evaluation of counselling in primary care.


BACKGROUND: Counselling in primary care settings remains largely unevaluated. Such evaluation has been strongly recommended. AIM: To determine the relative effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of generic counselling and usual general practitioner (GP) care for patients with minor mental health problems. METHOD: A randomized controlled trial and health economic evaluation were carried out in nine general practices. Access to generic counselling (brief counselling, generally involving up to six 50-minute sessions) was compared with usual GP care. A total of 162 patients aged 16 years and over with diverse mental health problems (excluding phobic conditions and psychoses) were randomized. The Hospital Anxiety and Depression (HAD) scale, COOP/WONCA (World Organization of Family Doctors) functional health assessment charts, and the delighted-terrible faces scale were used to assess outcome four months after randomization. RESULTS: The two groups were similar at baseline. There were significant improvements in both groups between randomization and follow-up for most outcome measures, but no significant differences between the study arms. The 95% confidence limits were narrow and excluded clinically significant effects. Under various assumptions concerning the cost of secondary care referrals and of counselling time, no clear cost advantage was associated with either intervention. CONCLUSIONS: This pragmatic trial demonstrates no difference in functional or mental health outcome at four months between subjects offered access to counselling and those given usual care by their GP. There is no clear difference in the cost-effectiveness of the two interventions. Purchasers should take account of these findings in allocating resources within primary care.

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Selected References

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