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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.