Camden psychotherapy centre near Freud’s home battles for survival

Reporter Kate Ferguson talks to patients and staff about how the centre has shaped mental health care in Camden.

Benedicte Vallas was desperate when she first wrote to the Camden Psychotherapy Unit (CPU) asking them to take her as a patient.

She had lapsed into a deep bout of depression and anxiety after the sudden death of two relatives and was struggling to cope with everyday life.

“I was having a breakdown. I couldn’t really gel with my life. I didn’t feel there were very many options,” said Ms Vallas.

“Having mental health problems can be quite shameful and hard to admit to and I didn’t know where to turn.”


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She had twice turned up at A&E pleading to be admitted but was quietly told that her problems were not acute enough to put her on a ward mainly populated by those struggling with drug and alcohol addiction.

“I have got wonderful children and a wonderful family and a great job and people found it difficult to understand that I could be affected by depression,” she said.

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“There is absolutely nothing you can do when it affects you. You are absolutely crippled and it is really difficult to make people appreciate how crippling it is.

“I see myself as a person in a wheelchair behind a desk – I am crippled but no-one can see it.”

The centre which did see it was the CPU in Kentish Town Road, where she underwent rigorous psychoanalysis up to twice a week for two years.

“They fulfilled all the roles of being there for me when I found it very, very difficult to get help from anyone else,” she said.

After more than 40 years providing free, long-term psychoanalytic care to hundreds of people struggling with mental problems, CPU is battling for survival.

The centre – hidden behind an anonymous door in Kentish Town Road, just a mile from the old home of the founding father of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud – lost out in the latest round of tendering and all its NHS funding as a result.

Without a renewed bout of commissioning, the unit is unlikely to last beyond next year.

But the CPU’s closure would signify more than just the end of a well-used centre.

It is emblematic of a larger shift in mental health care away from long-term psychoanalysis, towards more short- term behavioural therapy.

Ora Dresner, CPU manager, said: “In today’s society, there is such a pressure on using cognitive behavioural therapy and short-term intervention.This has a place – but there is a tendency to think they can answer most questions and they don’t. Meanwhile, the place of psychoanalytic psychotherapy in the NHS is being diminished.

“There is a sense that this longer-term therapy is too expensive and that behavioural therapies are preferable, more effective and cheaper to run.

“But that is a false economy because those people being treated over shorter periods will end up coming back.

“If somebody is depressed for 30 years, they aren’t going to come out of it in eight weeks. People with depression will suffer and it is just not fair.”

The fear for Ms Dresner and other therapists is that if the NHS swings too far behind the latest therapeutic fashions, the accumulated knowledge and expertise of valued centres will be lost.

Barry Peskin, a CPU trustee, said: “The home of Freud is losing its specialist mental health services.”

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