In a randomized prospective treatment study, 80 overdose patients (not requiring intensive psychiatric intervention) received either brief out-patient counselling or were returned to the care of their general practitioners with advice on management. There was little difference in outcome between the two groups. However, two sub-groups of patients benefited more from out-patient counselling than from general practitioner care, these were: (a) women, and (b) patients with dyadic problems. Counselling following overdoses should be focused on groups of patients such as these who are most likely to benefit from it. Further work is needed to identify treatment approaches that will help other groups who take overdoses, especially men.