September 2018 – American Psychological Association


Work-Focused Psychotherapy Helps Employees Return To Work Sooner

Research published online in APA’s Journal of Occupational Health Psychology has found that employees who received work-focused therapy, returned to work sooner, did not suffer adverse effects and showed significant improvement in mental health over the course of one year. It turns out that maintaining a strong focus and a goal may be helping claimants return to work and manage their mental health better.

“People with depression or anxiety may take a lot of sick leave to address their problems,” said the study’s lead author, Suzanne Lagerveld, of the Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research (TNO). “However, focusing on how to return to work is not a standard part of therapy. This study shows that integrating return-to-work strategies into therapy leads to less time out of work with little to no compromise in people’s psychological well-being over the course of one year.”

The study, conducted in the Netherlands, followed 168 employees, 60% of whom were women, on sick leave due to psychological problems such as anxiety, adjustment disorder and minor depression. 79 employees across a variety of occupations received standard, evidence-based cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), while the rest received CBT that included a focus on work and the process of returning to work.

CBT is based on the idea that people’s thoughts, rather than external factors such as people, situations or events, cause feelings and behaviors. This is the approach that has been recommend by Kate Harri, our guest contributor.

In the ‘work-focused’ group, psychotherapists addressed work issues in an early phase and used work and the workplace as mechanisms or context to improve the client’s mental health. For example, therapists consistently explained to their clients how work can offer structure and self-esteem, characteristics beneficial to clients’ recovery. They also helped clients draft a detailed, gradual plan for returning to work, focusing on how the client would engage in specific tasks and activities.

Those in the work-focused group fully returned to work on average 65 days earlier than the participants in the standard therapy group, and they started a partial return to work 12 days earlier.

Insurers could greatly benefit from this approach, by keeping claimants focused on an achievable goal and setting out a key set of benefits and pathway of RTW.

To read the full research paper, please follow this link.

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