Objectives: To evaluate the effectiveness of counselling in the management of minor psychiatric morbidity in general practice, and to explore the reasons for difficulties in recruiting patients to such an evaluation.
Methods: We attempted to conduct a randomized controlled trial of counselling in eight general practices in one NHS family health services authority area in England. Having experienced significant problems recruiting patients, we conducted semi-structured telephone interviews (n = 8) with participating GPs to explore the reasons for these difficulties.
Results: Five months after the start of the study only one patient had been recruited. The main reasons identified as contributing to the recruitment problems were: general practitioners' motivation for involvement in the study; their ethical doubts about the randomization process; the perceived lack of a viable non-counselling intervention; and their existing practical commitment to counselling.
Conclusion: Although methodological modification might enhance the potential for success in future studies of this sort, more fundamental difficulties concerning general practitioners' attitudes to research and their professional responsibilities lie at the heart of our recruitment problems.