Work-focused psychotherapy can help employees return to work sooner

February 27, 2012, American Psychological Association

Employees on sick leave with common mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety fully returned to work sooner when therapy deals with work-related problems and how to get back on the job, according to new research published by the American Psychological Association.

Employees who received this and returned to work sooner did not suffer and showed significant improvement in mental health over the course of one year, according to the article, published online in APA's Journal of .

"People with depression or anxiety may take a lot of 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, of whom 60 percent were women, on sick leave due to such as anxiety, adjustment disorder and minor depression. Seventy-nine employees from a variety of jobs received standard, evidence-based cognitive-behavioral therapy, while the rest received cognitive-behavioral therapy that included a focus on work and the process of returning to work.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is based on the idea that people's thoughts, rather than external factors such as people, situations or events, cause feelings and behaviors. Cognitive-behavioral therapists encourage their clients to change the way they think in order to feel better even if the situation does not change. Behavioral techniques such as gradual exposure to difficult situations are often used within .

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.

Clients in both groups received treatment for about 12 sessions over an average of six months. The researchers checked in with them at three-month intervals for one year, shortly before treatment began.

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. Those in the work-focused therapy engaged in more steps to fully return to work, gradually increasing their hours and duties. Almost all the participants in the study – 99 percent – had at least partially returned to work at the one-year follow-up. Most participants resumed work gradually, with only 7 percent going directly from full sick leave to full-time work.

All participants had fewer problems over the course of treatment, no matter which type of therapy they received, with the most dramatic decrease in symptoms occurring in the first few months.

"Being out of work has a direct effect on people's well-being. Those who are unable to participate in work lose a valuable source of social support and interpersonal contacts," said Lagerveld. "They might lose part of their income and consequently tend to develop even more psychological symptoms. We've demonstrated that employees on sick leave with mental disorders can benefit from interventions that enable them to return to work."

The savings to an employer whose employee went back to work earlier was estimated at 20 percent, which amounted to about a $5,275 gain in U.S. dollars per employee, according to the article. This was based solely on wages paid during sick leave and did not include additional costs of productivity loss and hiring replacements.

The , in Washington, D.C., is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world's largest association of psychologists. APA's membership includes more than 154,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 54 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance psychology as a science, as a profession and as a means of promoting health, education and human welfare.

Explore further: New therapy may help people with unexplained symptoms of pain, weakness and fatigue

More information: Article: "Work-Focused Treatment of Common Mental Disorders and Return to Work: A Comparative Outcome Study," Suzanne E. Lagerveld, MS, and Roland W. B. Blonk, PhD, TNO Quality of Life/Work & Employment Hoofddorp, The Netherlands; Veerle Brenninkmeijer, PhD, Leoniek Wijngaards-de Meij, PhD, and Wilmar B. Schaufeli, PhD, Utrecht University; Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, online.

Related Stories

New therapy may help people with unexplained symptoms of pain, weakness and fatigue

July 27, 2011
A new type of therapy may help people with symptoms such as pain, weakness, or dizziness that can't be explained by an underlying disease, according to a study published in the July 27, 2011, online issue of Neurology, the ...

Workplace mental health disability leave recurs sooner than physical health leave, study shows

June 29, 2011
The recurrence of an employee's medical leave of absence from work tends to happen much sooner with a mental health leave than a physical one, a Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) study shows.

Accepting negative feelings provides emotional relief

February 23, 2012
Many adults suffer from mild to moderate depression and/or anxiety symptoms. This puts them at increased risk of developing a mental disorder. Proactive intervention by the mental health services is therefore crucial if we ...

Emerging anxiety treatments advance coping strategies, but more study needed

June 15, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- Anxiety disorders are the most common of all mental health problems, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association. In fact, it's estimated that nearly 29 per cent of the population will experience ...

Recommended for you

People with prosthetic arms less affected by common illusion

January 22, 2018
People with prosthetic arms or hands do not experience the "size-weight illusion" as strongly as other people, new research shows.

Study of learning and memory problems in OCD helps young people unlock potential at school

January 22, 2018
Adolescents with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) have widespread learning and memory problems, according to research published today. The findings have already been used to assist adolescents with OCD obtain the help ...

Intensive behavior therapy no better than conventional support in treating teenagers with antisocial behavior

January 19, 2018
Research led by UCL has found that intensive and costly multisystemic therapy is no better than conventional therapy in treating teenagers with moderate to severe antisocial behaviour.

Babies' babbling betters brains, language

January 18, 2018
Babies are adept at getting what they need - including an education. New research shows that babies organize mothers' verbal responses, which promotes more effective language instruction, and infant babbling is the key.

College branding makes beer more salient to underage students

January 18, 2018
In recent years, major beer companies have tried to capitalize on the salience of students' university affiliations, unveiling marketing campaigns and products—such as "fan cans," store displays, and billboard ads—that ...

Inherited IQ can increase in early childhood

January 18, 2018
When it comes to intelligence, environment and education matter – more than we think.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.