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BACKGROUND: Arts therapies are widely but inconsistently provided in community mental health. Whilst they are appealing to patients, evidence for their effectiveness is mixed. Trials to date have been limited to one art-form or diagnosis. Patients may hold strong preferences for or against an art-form whilst group therapies rely on heterogeneity to provide a range of learning experiences. This study will test whether manualised group arts therapies (art therapy, dance movement therapy and music therapy) are effective in reducing psychological distress for diagnostically heterogeneous patients in community mental health compared to active group counselling control. METHODS: A pragmatic multi-centre 2-arm randomised controlled superiority trial with health economic evaluation and nested process evaluation. Adults aged ≥ 18, living in the community with a primary diagnosis of psychosis, mood, or anxiety disorder will be invited to participate and provide written informed consent. Participants are eligible if they score ≥ 1.65 on the Global Severity Index of the Brief Symptom Inventory. Those eligible will view videos of arts therapies and be asked for their preference. Participants are randomised to either their preferred type of group arts therapy or counselling. Groups will run twice per week in a community venue for 20 weeks. Our primary outcome is symptom distress at the end of intervention. Secondary outcomes include observer-rated symptoms, social situation and quality of life. Data will be collected at baseline, post-intervention and 6 and 12 months post-intervention. Outcome assessors and trial statisticians will be blinded. Analysis will be intention-to-treat. Economic evaluation will assess the cost-effectiveness of group arts therapies. A nested process evaluation will consist of treatment fidelity analysis, exploratory analysis of group process measures and qualitative interviews with participants and therapists. DISCUSSION: This will be the first trial to account for patient preferences and diagnostic heterogeneity in group arts therapies. As with all group therapies, there are a number of logistical challenges to which we have had to further adapt due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Overall, the study will provide evidence as to whether there is an additive benefit or not to the use of the arts in group therapy in community mental health care. TRIAL REGISTRATION: ISRCTN, ISRCTN88805048 . Registered on 12 September 2018.

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Art therapy, Arts therapies, Counselling, Dance movement therapy, Economic evaluation, Group, Mental health, Music therapy, Process evaluation, Randomised controlled trial, Adult, Humans, Art Therapy, Counseling, COVID-19, Dance Therapy, Mental Health Services, Multicenter Studies as Topic, Music Therapy, Pandemics, Quality of Life, Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic, Adolescent, Pragmatic Clinical Trials as Topic, Equivalence Trials as Topic