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Does workplace counselling work?

  • John McLeod (a1) and Max Henderson (a2)
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There has been a rapid increase in compensation claims for work-related stress in recent years (Dyer, 2002). A Court of Appeal ruling last year (Sutherland v. Hatton, 2002) made it clear that employees who feel under stress at work should inform their employers and give them a chance to do something about it. Any employer who offers a confidential counselling service with access to treatment may have some protection from prosecution. In the face of a possible explosion in the provision of such services we need to ask – do they actually work? In 2001 the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy commissioned and published a report, Counselling in the Workplace: The Facts (McLeod, 2001), which described itself as ‘the most comprehensive possible review of all English language studies of counselling in the workplace’. The results appeared clear and unequivocal. After counselling, work-related symptoms returned to normal in more than half of all clients and sickness absence was reduced by over 25%. The report has received much publicity in the general medical press (Mayor, 2001). But just how reliable is the evidence? We asked Professor John McLeod, the author of the report, and Dr Max Henderson, Clinical Research Fellow in Occupational Psychiatry, to debate the issue: ‘Does workplace counselling work?’ The arguments will inform other debates into interventions that seem intrinsically to be a ‘good thing’ but that have not yet been subjected to rigorous investigation.

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References
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Carroll, M. & Walton, M. (eds) (1999) Handbook of Counselling in Organisations. London: Sage.
Chalmers, T., Celano, P., Sacks, H., et al (1983) Bias in treatment assignment in controlled clinical trials. New England Journal of Medicine, 309, 13581361.
Deale, A., Chalder, T., Marks, I., et al (1997) Cognitive behavior therapy for chronic fatigue syndrome: a randomized controlled trial. American Journal of Psychiatry, 154, 408414.
Dyer, C. (2002) Judges curb stress cases. Appeal court rulings scrap compensation awards and put on us on workers to tackle employers. The Guardian, 6 February.
Goldberg, R. & Steury, S. (2001) Depression in the workplace: costs and barriers to treatment. Psychiatric Services, 52, 16391643.
McLeod, J. (2001) Counselling in the Workplace: The Facts. A Systematic Study of the Research Evidence. Rugby: British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy.
Mayor, J. (2001) Review confirms workplace counselling reduces stress. BMJ, 322, 637.
Millar, A. (2002) Beyond resolution of presenting issues: clients' experiences of an in-house police counselling service. Counselling and Psychotherapy Research, 2, 159166.
Oher, J. M. (ed.) (1999) The Employee Assistance Handbook. New York: Wiley.
Wainwright, D. & Calnan, M. (2002) Work Stress: The Making of a Modern Epidemic. Buckingham: Open University Press.
Sutherland V. Hatton (2002) EWCA Civ 76.
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The British Journal of Psychiatry
  • ISSN: 0007-1250
  • EISSN: 1472-1465
  • URL: /core/journals/the-british-journal-of-psychiatry
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Does workplace counselling work?

  • John McLeod (a1) and Max Henderson (a2)
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