Interpersonal counselling for adolescent depression delivered by youth mental health workers without core professional training: A feasibility randomised controlled trial study protocol

Gabriel Abotsie, Viktoria Cestaro, Brioney Gee, Jamie Murdoch, Thando Katangwe, Richard Meiser-Stedman, Lee Shepstone, David Turner, Susie Tulk, Sharon Jarrett, Jon Wilson, Timothy Clarke, Bonnie Teague, Paul Wilkinson

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Background: Depression is a common health problem during adolescence and is associated with adverse academic, social and health outcomes. To meet the demand for treatment for adolescent depression, there is a need for evidence-based interventions suitable for delivery outside of specialist Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS). Interpersonal Counselling for Adolescents (IPC-A) is a brief manualised intervention for adolescent depression suitable for delivery by staff who are not qualified health professionals following participation in a brief training course. While initial piloting within Local Authority services has generated promising results, the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of IPC-A has yet to be established. This study aims to assess the feasibility of a randomised controlled trial (RCT), evaluating the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of IPC-A delivered by staff without core professional training in comparison to current provision.

Method: Feasibility RCT with process evaluation using ethnographic methodology. Eligible young people (n = 60) will be randomised in a 1:1 ratio to receive either IPC-A or treatment as usual (TAU). Participants will be assessed pre-randomisation (baseline) and followed up at 5, 10 and 23 weeks post-randomisation. A parallel process evaluation will generate understanding of intervention implementation across services and explore the acceptability of the intervention from the perspective of young people and other key stakeholders.

Participants: Young people aged 12–18 years presenting to non-specialist services with symptoms of depression. Youth workers, young people and stakeholders will participate in the process evaluation.

Discussion: The need for effective and accessible interventions for young people with mild/sub-threshold depression who, in most cases, do not meet the threshold for mainstream mental health services is long overdue. The primary output of this feasibility trial will be the design of the subsequent full-scale trial. If the results of the current study indicate that this would be feasible, we intend to progress to a multi-site, assessor-blind, superiority RCT of the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of IPC-A in comparison to TAU for adolescents presenting to non-specialist services with depressive symptoms. If satisfactory solutions to any problems encountered cannot be identified, alternative research designs will be considered. If proven effective, an IPC-A training programme could be implemented.

Trial registry: ISRCTN registry, ISRCTN82180413, Registered 31 December 2019.
Original languageEnglish
Article number191
JournalPilot and Feasibility Studies
Publication statusPublished - 10 Dec 2020


  • Adolescents
  • Depression
  • Early Help
  • Interpersonal Counselling
  • Interpersonal Counselling for Adolescents, Young people
  • Local Authority
  • Youth Workers

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