Tuesday, 19 May 2015

This blog has ended - see www.covhealthpsych.com

Thanks for your interest.
I no longer maintain an individual professional blog but post instead as part of the health psychology masters team at www.covhealthpsych.com
I have left my old blog entries on here largely for the purposes of personal and professional nostalgia.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Not written anything on here for a while

Apologies for the dearth of posts. I've been developing the blog for our MSc Health Psychology course so neglected things on my personal site. Come over and visit us at www.covhealthpsych.com

Back here some time in the winter I hope.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Bad evidence?

Listened to Ben Goldacre's documentary today on BBC Radio 4.

"Medic and author Ben Goldacre explores the idea of evidence-based policy and asks if it can ever become a reality in the UK... What is clear, is that bad policies cost us dear - both socially and economically. The challenges are many but the potential, argues Ben, could be truly transformational, both for society and for government."
Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01phhb9

Over the Christmas break I have been marking coursework assignments from nearly 70 undergraduate students on the Applied Health Psychology module I teach. The students' task was to critically assess the UK's Change4Life public health programme, using the best evidence available.

This entailed identifying the different behaviour change techniques employed within the programme, then checking the published evidence (from controlled trials, systematic reviews, etc.) for how effective these techniques are at changing similar behaviours (diet, physical activity, alcohol consumption) in similar populations.

The evidence is somewhat mixed. Perhaps another example of ISLAGIATT in public policy?

Best practice in health psychology and related disciplines suggests a more systematic and evidence based approach to designing large scale public health programmes. This typically involves using intervention mapping, and includes a clear plan for rigorous testing of effectiveness that is built in before the programme is launched.

Meanwhile, I am adding the following recent paper to my 'must read' list:
Piggin (2012) Turning health research into health promotion: A study of causality and ‘critical insights’ in a United Kingdom health campaign.

Examples of Intervention Mapping used to develop programmes

Aarø, L. E., Flisher, A. J., Kaaya, S., Onya, H., Fuglesang, M., Klepp, K. -., & Schaalma, H. (2006). Promoting sexual and reproductive health in early adolescence in South Africa and Tanzania: Development of a theory- and evidence-based intervention programme. Scandinavian Journal of Public Health, 34(2), 150-158.

Byrd, T. L., Wilson, K. M., Smith, J. L., Heckert, A., Orians, C. E., Vernon, S. W., . . . Fernandez, M. E. (2012). Using intervention mapping as a participatory strategy: Development of a cervical cancer screening intervention for Hispanic women. Health Education and Behavior, 39(5), 603-611.

Corbie-Smith, G., Akers, A., Blumenthal, C., Council, B., Wynn, M., Muhammad, M., & Stith, D. (2010). Intervention mapping as a participatory approach to developing an HIV prevention intervention in rural African American communities. AIDS Education and Prevention, 22(3), 184-202.

Day, R. S., Nakamori, M., & Yamamoto, S. (2004). Recommendations to develop an intervention for Japanese youth on weight management. Journal of Medical Investigation, 51(3-4), 154-162.

Hou, S. I., Fernandez, M. E., & Parcel, G. S. (2004). Development of a cervical cancer educational program for Chinese women using intervention mapping. Health Promotion Practice, 5(1), 80-87.

Leerlooijer, J. N., Ruiter, R. A. C., Reinders, J., Darwisyah, W., Kok, G., & Bartholomew, L. K. (2011). The world starts with me: Using intervention mapping for the systematic adaptation and transfer of school-based sexuality education from Uganda to Indonesia. Translational Behavioral Medicine, 1(2), 331-340.

Leshabari, S. C., Koniz-Booher, P., Astrøm, A. N., De Paoli, M. M., & Moland, K. M. (2006). Translating global recommendations on HIV and infant feeding to the local context: The development of culturally sensitive counselling tools in the Kilimanjaro region, Tanzania. Implementations Science, 1(1)

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Using the web to explore experiences of health and illness

One of the first places many people turn to when they have a health concern is the internet (assuming they have access, sufficient privacy, can read and so on).  This may be especially true for mental health conditions, given the ambiguity and stigma that sufferers often experience.

My colleagues, students and I have been using the web for several years now, to explore the concerns of people with various health conditions. My primary interest is in polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).  Internet discussions can tell us a lot about the worries and hassles of patients, and how interacting with fellow sufferers can meet needs that aren’t served by traditional healthcare services. For example, work I did with students Maxine Aston and Janat Kunihira identified the psychosocial issues that most concerned women and young girls with PCOS.  These often included problems that are ignored in validated measures that are used by health professionals. 

Traditionally, practitioners who take the trouble to measure the impact of PCOS on patients’ quality of life administer questionnaires about emotions, body hair, weight, infertility, and menstrual problems.  These are indeed important areas of concern.  Unfortunately the questionnaires fail to assess the impact of key symptoms such as acne, and leave little scope for patients to express or define the emotions that are troubling them.  When we looked at what users discuss on internet support forums, we found issues that were simply not tapped into by existing questionnaire measures. Difficulties getting a clear diagnosis, obtaining information about treatment options, dealing with less than supportive health professionals and handling unpleasant side effects of treatment were all significant sources of distress.  We recommend that these be included as ‘domains impacting on health related quality of life’, if researchers and professionals are to get a clearer picture of the impact of PCOS.

In the cases above, we used the web to collect ‘naturalistic’ data, without the researchers intervening or interacting with forum users. One of the benefits of this approach is that patients or forum users may feel freer to express concerns that really bother them.  With pressure of time in a clinic setting, and more (or less) subtle pressure to be a good (compliant) patient, service users may be reluctant to broach sensitive personal topics such as body shame, self-loathing, binge eating or embarrassing treatment side effects. They may also be unwilling to criticise the way their health professional deals with them, for gratitude or fear of rejection.  Looking at what patients talk to each other about, and the kinds of help they seek and offer online, may give us a more ‘ecologically valid’ measure of the impact their condition is having on their quality of life.

As well as giving us access to the thematic content of online discussions, using web forum data can also shed light on key health behavioural processes. Social support (e.g. practical, emotional or informational assistance) is a much cited factor that mediates our responses to potential stressors, and may act as a buffer to prevent physiological stress responses triggering physical disease.  Student Sarah Murphy and I analysed threads on PCOS discussion forums, looking at what kinds of support were more often sought by users initiating message threads, and what kinds of support were most often offered by users who responded. Our findings identified both social support strengths of the online discussion forums, and gaps (especially health information gaps) that may need to be addressed by healthcare providers.

Occasionally I have met scepticism or resistance from fellow professionals when I have advocated the use of internet data collection techniques. I am primarily a qualitative researcher – that is I am interested in analysing in depth accounts of people’s lived experiences. Critics sometimes argue that messages posted online will contain nothing psychologically meaningful. They suggest that posts in forums will be too brief to shed any real light on significant thought s and emotions. A student once had a submission for ethical approval of her study rejected on this basis. As users of web forums will already be aware, users are often surprisingly willing to write extensively about their experiences, and extraordinarily generous in offering support to others. Not only does this suggest that self disclosure (in a safe environment) may have psychosocial benefits, but that being able to offer support to others may be health enhancing. It also means that canny researchers have a rich source of qualitative data  - ready transcribed and good to go.

Colleagues, students and I have also used web based social networks to recruit people and elicit ‘new’ data from them for the purposes of research.  This typically involves using forums to invite people to complete an online questionnaire and/or participate in some form of interview. For example, student Kathryn Scouller and I collected detailed accounts of positive and negative healthcare experiences from 99 women with PCOS, using an online survey site.  Again, some reviewers have been doubtful about the suitability of online survey methodology to collect in depth personal accounts. The generous self disclosure of women in our study suggests that this is not necessarily the case.

I am very pleased to be supervising a Kathryn Wells this year who is investigating the experience of people with anxiety who have used computerised CBT.  She will be recruiting users of anxiety discussion forums to complete an online qualitative questionnaire, face to face or telephone interview. Kathryn also got through the ethics approval process first time and with no amendments to her study!  So it looks as though research governance processes are beginning to recognise the great potential web data has for psychology and health related investigations.


Aston, M., Kunihira, J., and Percy, C. (2008) 'Psychosocial Concerns of Adolescents with PCOS: Naturalistic Data Collection from an Internet Discussion Forum' Poster presented to British Psychological Society, Division of Health Psychology & European Health Psychology Society, Annual Conference, University of Bath, September.
Percy, C. and Murray, S. (2010) 'The Role of an on-Line Peer-to-Peer Health Community in Addressing Psychosocial Concerns and Social Support in Polycystic Ovary Syndrome'. International Journal of Web Based Communities 6 (4), 349-361


Verity - the UK patient charity for Polycystic Ovary Syndrome 
PCOSQ - the health-related quality of life measure most commonly used for PCOS

Some work we did using the PCOSQ

Some critical analysis of the PCOSQ

Surveysite we have used a lot in our research (other commercial and free websites are available!)


http://www.psychforums.com/ - A support forum for those suffering from different mental disorders.

http://www.ccbt.co.uk/ - CCBT Limited delivers evidence based computer-aided cognitive behavioural therapy (CCBT).  The FearFighter™ Treatment is the only product endorsed by a national regulator (NICE in the UK – TA097) for an Anxiety Treatment.

http://www.anxietysocialnet.com/ - A fast growing social networking site for those suffering from Anxiety Disorders. It allows its members to write anxiety diaries to share their experiences, post questions, pictures and articles have one-to-one chats with other members and create and join groups.

Kathryn says if anyone wants more information on her computerised CBT study feel free to email her at wellsk@uni.coventry.ac.uk

None of the sites mentioned above are endorsed by Carol, Kathryn, or Coventry University.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Self efficacy enhanced

Nine students from our MSc Health Psychology (and one final year BSc Psych student who was VERY welcome) attended our recent workshop introducing motivational interviewing.  As part of the evaluation process, we measured their self assessed confidence in a range of knowledge and skills, pre and post training.  Nice positive changes observed, and lots of interest in further training.

More workshops coming soon, including:

Cognitive behavioural therapy techniques applied to health behaviour change.

Intermediate and advanced motivational interviewing - health promotion, primary prevention, long term conditions, substance misuse, working with groups, dealing with dyads, brief opportunistic interventions.

Intervention mapping - developing theory driven, evidence based programmes using proven health behaviour change techniques - especially relevant to public health.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Open for bookings...


Motivational Interviewing: An Introduction

This one day workshop provides an introduction to the theory and evidence that underpin motivational interviewing, and an opportunity to try some practical tools and techniques. It is intended for the continuing professional development of anyone who works with others to promote behaviour change, for example in education, health promotion, chronic disease management, addictions, antisocial behaviour, etc.

For further details about the workshop contact: Dr. Carol Percy, Tel: 024 7688 8223 or email: c.percy@coventry.ac.uk

For any booking enquiries please contact:

The Health and Social Care Unit: Email: hscu.hls@coventry.ac.uk providing your contact Name, Telephone number, including mobile, address and your enquiry and we will contact you within 3 working days.

Course Code


Course Date

17th May 2012

Places Available


Course Leader

Carol Percy

Course Description

The first part of the day will cover the assumptions and spirit of motivational interviewing – what makes it a distinctive approach to supporting behaviour change. The remainder of the day will be given over to practical tools and techniques, with an opportunity for practice and constructive feedback.

The course will begin at 9.30am and finish at 17.30pm and will be based in the Graduate Centre, Jaguar Building, Coventry University. On your arrival please report to reception and they will direct you to the designated room for training.

More timetabling information will be provided on the day.

Workshop fee: £200.00, or Discounted rate of £100 for anyone registered as a student at Coventry University at the time of booking. The workshop programme includes lunch and light refreshment, a resource pack and CPD course certificate. Please advise of any special dietary requirements.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

End of term

Ok so there are undergraduate and postgraduate assignments due in today with a performance-related-pay link* to getting them marked, moderated, agreed, sampled and back to students (and satisfying them with their marks and feedback) within two weeks, however...

* Meeting the two week target doesn't mean you get a bonus (ha ha - as if...!).  Failing to meet it means you can be deemed to have failed in your performance objectives. If you fail often enough you might not get an annual pay increment.