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Research Spotlight: Could Workplace Psychotherapy Consultation Improve Mental Health Problems?

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By Dr. Eva Rothermund

Aim of the study

A significant number of people with mental health problems are employed. Therefore the workplace has been promoted as a pivotal social context to address mild to moderate mental disorders immediately and to provide early intervention through workplace psychotherapy consultation.

The model of a “psychotherapeutic consultation in the workplace” was established within a landscape of existing health care services of psychotherapeutic outpatient care in southwest Germany. We wanted to find out

  1. If the worksite intervention improves access for people with a mild to moderate mental health care problem. We defined “improved access” as contact with the mental health care offer in an early state of impairment.
  2. How effective the worksite intervention is compared to the existing health care offers.

What does the intervention “Psychotherapeutic consultation in the workplace contain?”

The intervention is provided by a mental health expert (medical or psychological psychotherapist) who, although not employed by the host company, may be paid by the company (as an external contractor) or by the company’s health insurance funds.

Workplace Psychotherapy Consultation

Research has found that offering psychotherapeutic consultations at work in the form of an assessment and four therapy session is a viable option for mental health care (Image source: Pixabay)

Clinical assessment is used to determine the severity of the mental health problem and whether workplace consultation is a suitable treatment option or whether additional or more intensive mental health care is needed. Each session lasts 50–60 minutes and a maximum of four sessions can be offered under the program. The strengths and resources of the patient are stressed and further treatments are recommended and discussed with the patient.

Key take-home messages

  • Offering mental health services in the workplace makes it easier to reach patients at an earlier stage in their illness
  • The worksite intervention reaches more users in an early stage of a mental disorder compared to the established offers.
  • Offering psychotherapeutic consultation in the workplace is feasible and accepted by users.
  • Men and women were addressed equally with the worksite offer whereas the male utilization rates of traditional mental health care offerings are at about 30%.
  • Psychotherapeutic consultation is similarly effective in improving a persons’ functional and status whether delivered in the workplace or in an outpatient clinic.

How would these findings impact clinical practice?

Offering mental health services in the workplace makes it easier to reach patients at an earlier stage in their illness and thus enables provision of early and effective mental health care. Our findings strongly support the need for mental health care specialist consultation in strong cooperation with the occupational physician or other company-based offerings.

Who would benefit most from this intervention?

People who are at risk of developing a clinically relevant mental disorder would benefit most from this intervention. Instead of waiting and trying to cope by themselves they could get help early and before they drop out of their daily routines. Men benefit from this intervention. The reason was not detected within our study design. A reason could be because it is convenient to obtain this offer within the workplace. We also think that an offer that is part of the workplace health promotion reduces the fear of being stigmatized.

Links to the research articles

Rothermund, E., Gündel, H., Rottler, E., Hölzer, M., Mayer, D., Rieger, M., & and Kilian, R.  (2016). Effectiveness of psychotherapeutic consultation in the workplace: a controlled observational trial. BMC Public Health, 16, 891, DOI: 10.1186/s12889-016-3567-y

Rothermund, E., Kilian, E., Rottler, E., Mayer, D., Hölzer, M., Rieger, M. A., & Gündel, H. (2017). Improving access to mental health care by delivering psychotherapeutic care in the workplace: A cross-sectional exploratory trial. PLOS One, 12(1), e0169559. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0169559


Eva Rothermund

Eva Rothermund

Eva Rothermund is a lecturer, researcher, and medical doctor specialized in psychosomatic medicine and psychotherapy at the Department of Psychosomatic Medicine and Psychotherapy of the University Hospital Ulm in southwest Germany. She is an experienced clinician of inpatient treatment of mental disorders including somatoform symptom disorders and chronic pain. Her research interests are the impact of social interaction on mental and physical health and health services research. Eva’s research can be viewed at ResearchGate. Alternatively, visit the University Hospital Ulm website.

Published: March 11, 2017