Lecturer, occupational health, University of Sheffield
In my research, I have looked at the psycho-educational aspects of mental health, at why hypnotherapy works, the biological process of imagery, and at laughter and how it affects the immune system. So I am interested in the emotional and physical side of stress - but that doesn't mean you can ignore organisational aspects and the support staff receive, or the control they have over their work. These are all critical factors in managing stress, which the HSE guidelines have picked up.
But I am interested in the support base that an individual can have in terms of how they perceive the stressors. If you change someone's perceptions of the stressor, the stressors won't change, but their changed perceptions can help them. It can make the situation feel better, and so alleviate anxiety and depression.
The problem with some therapies is that they are so open-ended. But with cognitive behaviour therapy, we are normally looking at six or seven sessions. The sessions can also work with groups, and be run with staff who are not displaying stressful symptoms so they are a preventive measure. In this way, we can give people a toolkit to help them deal with stress, including positive imaging, assertiveness and laughter therapy, all of which can have a beneficial effect on the immune system and raise serotonin levels.
In cognitive behaviour therapy, the basic tenet is that you have an actual event - which could be a snide remark by a manager - and that there are consequences of that. If you believe your boss thinks you are useless at your job, or you think you are useless yourself, then the consequences will be difficult. But if you can change your negative belief, you change the consequence, even though the situation may still be the same.
Psychologist Robert Holden has looked at the way happiness can affect our health, and pointed out that while there is a huge amount of research into mental and physical ill health, there is very little into good health and happiness.
We don't analyse what makes us feel good - and if you ask people what makes them unhappy, it's like War and Peace. But if you ask what makes them happy, they hesitate. What this therapy is about is getting people to see there are positive things as well.
We aren't ignoring the fact that the work situation may be bad, but we are trying to get them to see that there are positive