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Positive psychology 'could help GPs battle burnout'

Self-practised ‘positive psychology’ could help GPs avoid personal burnout, delegates attending a College of Medicine session on Pulse’s GP burnout survey were told today.

Mental health experts at the College of Medicine’s annual conference said nine-out-of-eleven GPs would typically use the technique on themselves after attending a workshop on positive psychology, resulting in reduced levels of anxiety, depression, exhaustion and depersonalisation.

Speaking at the conference, Dr Alistair Dobbin, a GP in Edinburgh and co-founder of the Foundation for Positive Mental Health, said he had developed a programme to help GP colleagues to increase their resilience to burnout based on a programme used to coach Swedish Olympians.

The programme - accredited by the RCGP since 2012 - is based around relaxation techniques, breathing retraining, visualisation and changing of thinking styles to boost positive emotions and has been found to be particularly effective on GPs.

Dr Dobbin said: ‘The tool was developed for patients but GPs started saying “actually I’ve been using this myself”. I have so far had over 400 GPs attending [the workshop] and when we did a survey nine-out-of-eleven of them were later using it on themselves, as if they were patients.

‘Resilience is about increasing access to positive emotions which transforms the way your cognition works. Because it is a positive-thoughts programme there is no stigma attached to it at all.’

Meanwhile, Dr Chris Manning, mental health policy lead for the College of Medicine who advised Pulse on the burnout survey, told conference delegates that this was ‘just the beginning of a major piece of work’ to tackle GP burnout.

Presenting the survey results, which showed that half of GPs are at risk of burning out, he said: ‘We need to encourage people with burnout to use whatever energy they have to make their voices heard. We are dealing with people here who are seeing patients every day and I think you will agree this is not a good sign.’

Presenting the session, NHS Alliance chair Dr Michael Dixon, a GP in Devon and president of the College of Medicine, said the Pulse burnout survey had ‘snowballed beyond something of which we could not have dreamed’, attracting close to 1,800 responses.

Readers' comments (10)

  • My job is great, my job is great, my job is great.......Nope didnt work my job is still crap and getting crapper.

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  • Can you hear the scratching as we get to the bottom of the barrel.

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  • No amount of this stuff reduces the demand of 12- 13 hour days. Hey folks, are we not a part of the human race that has health and safety and safe working hours? Well, what are they ?

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  • As a psychologist, and not to be disparaging about positive psychology, but you match the intervention to the severity of the difficulty. Here I would suggest it is a bit like handing a damp towel to cover someone's head when they are standing in a burning building. As an outsider but one who interacts with GPs on a regular basis as a consultant, systemic issues in how primary care is organised that need attention. When you work ridiculous hours without adequate built-in ways of dealing with stresses and strains, working to a profit imperative etc. etc. then you will suffer - sooner or later. It is trauma by prolonged duress.

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  • I assume NHS will start paying the Daily Wail and Jeremy Hunt etc to start providing public positive psychology then?

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  • small correction ,to 0811 ,it is crappier not crapper.

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  • You have to ask the question of why they are there in the first place!

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  • Dear All,
    I can assure you that Alastair Dobbin, I and many others are not just focusing on this issue in terms of downstream consequences on individuals; we are totally committed to tackling systemic causes upstream - hence the Battling Burnout Programme. However, people make up and design systems, so we need to provide evidence-based solutions for individuals and challenge embeddeded ignorance and indifference at political and operational levels. We need your help to do this if we are going to move beyond assessing needs to meeting them.
    In the meantime, I urge any and all of you who are struggling to seek help; we have listed a number of available resources - please use them and A C T !
    You have a duty of care to yourself.

    With my very best wishes
    Chris

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  • Eileen Murphy

    Just joined this group and bit put off by the negative comments about this excellent project. Why on earth would a resource that is evidence based and works very well with service users and patients across social and healthcare, not be considered useful to healthcare staff. Unless of course, it is less stressful to complain about the stress and reject any resource that might help? I can imagine what healthcare staff would say to a patient who refused treatment because he didn't agree with the restructuring of the NHS.

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  • Stress in medicine is mostly caused by excess workloads and hours without proper rest and leisure. So, why do we not have defined workloads that are safe for doctors and thus for patients. This whole argument is spurious and can be cured as soon as health and safety guidelines are issued for all doctors. The GPC / RCGP / BMA can sort this tomorrow if they wished. Remember they did not sort out junior doctor's torturous hours of sleepless nights. It took the EU. I wonder why?

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