Richard Thwaites.jpegSadly, certain mental health problems such as depression, phobias, chronic worry, and other anxiety disorders are extremely common.

Most people will either experience one of these during their lifetime, or know someone who does.

All these problems can be effectively treated using ‘talking therapies’, which have been in development since the 1970s. Sometimes, though, the need to sit in a room with a therapist - not to mention finding the time and travelling there - has made it difficult for everyone who needs them to access these treatments.

Over recent years, researchers have looked at other effective ways to provide treatments for these common problems digitally, to fit around the demands of people’s busy lives and the new ways that people are using technology. Early attempts at online therapy were clunky and difficult to use! But thankfully it has improved substantially, and can be just as personalised as when provided face-to-face.

First Step has offered an online therapy programme, SilverCloud, for several years. This has become increasingly popular with Cumbrian adults who seek support from us, because of how flexible and easy it is to access on computers and smartphones.

People can be referred to First Step by their GP, or contact us directly online at To make sure online therapy is the best option for you, we always have an initial telephone assessment. You and your therapist will then agree on a programme personalised to your particular circumstances, and introduce you to how SilverCloud works. There’s a wide variety of ‘modules’ on topics like perinatal depression, panic attacks, and even anxiety about COVID-19, to customise the course based on what you’re struggling with.

SilverCloud courses are based on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, a very effective treatment for mental health problems. The programmes provide a range of information and interactive exercises help you identify how you might have got stuck in certain ways of acting or thinking, and how to gradually make changes to help you overcome the challenges you face.

You work through the course at your own pace, but your therapist supports you throughout. They send you regular messages, reviewing your progress, making suggestions, and answering any questions or concerns you have. They can offer telephone sessions too, if you need them.

After your course ends you’ll have free access to the information in it for a year, to help you stay well. (A small group of people might need more help, and can be transferred to other therapies available from First Step.)

Research shows that most people choosing this online therapy get results just as good as if they worked face-to-face with a therapist. It is fantastic that the range of options is increasing; people can now choose how they prefer to receive effective and proven treatments.

Dr Richard Thwaites,
Consultant Clinical Psychologist and Clinical Lead for First Step, the NHS talking therapies service for North Cumbria.

To find out more about First Step, visit If you need urgent help with your mental health, call 0800 652 2865 at any time.

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