Opportunity for Band 6 Health Psychology Trainee at Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital and place on Professional Doctorate in Health Psychology at Staffordshire University

An exciting opportunity has arisen through collaborations between the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital and the Department of Psychology at Staffordshire University for a Band 6 trainee health psychologist. The trainee will be based within the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital for two years and will undertake Stage 2 training as a full-time student on the highly successful Professional Doctorate in Health Psychology at Staffordshire University

The role includes outpatient psychological assessment and therapy contributing towards the psychological component of the inpatient pain management programmes at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital. The 0.8 w.t.e post presents a unique opportunity for a highly motivated and professional person who has already completed their Stage 1 health psychology training, to complete competences required for their Stage 2 training, directly supported by the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital. (Please note that the full-time fees of £6,300 per annum and writing up fees will be payable from the salary provided).

The Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital NHS Trust (RNOH) is the largest orthopaedic hospital in the UK and is regarded as a leader in the field of orthopaedics both in the UK and world-wide. The RNOH provides a comprehensive range of neuro-musculoskeletal health care, ranging from acute spinal injury or complex bone tumour to orthopaedic medicine and specialist rehabilitation for people with chronic pain. This broad range of services is unique within the NHS.

Dr Rachel Povey, Co-Director of the Professional Doctorate in Health Psychology said:

Dr Rachel Povey

“We are very excited about this new collaboration between the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital and Staffordshire University.  The two-year Band 6 post at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital will be a unique opportunity for a trainee to complete their competences in an applied and stimulating environment, whilst studying with us on the Professional Doctorate in Health Psychology.”


For details of how to apply, please go to: https://www.jobs.nhs.uk/xi/vacancy/916050178

Please note that the closing date is: Thursday, 4th June, 2020.

For further information about this exciting opportunity please contact: Dr Rachel Povey, Co-Director of the Professional Doctorate in Health Psychology at Staffordshire University: r.povey@staffs.ac.uk; or Dr Andrew Lucas, Consultant Lead Health Psychologist at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital (Andrew.lucas3@nhs.net).


Staffordshire University – The Home of Health Psychology

Staffordshire University has a history of excellence in teaching and research in Health Psychology, and is home to Staffordshire’s BPS Accredited Stage 1 MSc in Health Psychology and Stage 2 Professional Doctorate in Health Psychology. The Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research has active team of Health Psychologists who conduct research and provide consultancy in a range of health-related issues.

Keep updated with the latest Health Psychology news from Staffordshire University via following us on @StaffsPsych and via the #HealthPsychStaffs hashtag.

For further information about Health Psychology courses and research at Staffordshire University please visit the following webpages:

The impact that lockdown might be having on body image

Dr Alison Owen appeared on BBC Radio Ulster on May 1st 2020 on the Evening Extra show with Devon Harvey and Julie McCullough to discuss the impact that lockdown may be having on people’s body image.

Dr Alison Owen

The discussion was based around the way that people are feeling about themselves during lockdown. For example, in terms of people not being able to get their hair cut or dyed or maintain their usual beauty regime.

Dr Owen talked about the fact that although many people are in lockdown at the moment, they are finding that they do still feel a lot of pressure on their appearance.

She discussed the impact that video calling may have on people’s body image. Many people are taking part in video calling, using applications such as Zoom and FaceTime, both for work and for keeping in touch with friends and family. This means that people are looking at their faces on a screen much more often than they usually would. This can really add to the pressure of maintaining a more polished appearance, so things like making sure that their hair looks presentable, or maybe feeling like they should apply makeup.

Another factor that was discussed during the programme was that video calling can bring attention to appearance-based flaws that people wouldn’t normally be focussing on. So, for example, wrinkles or imperfections that they can see whilst watching themselves on the screen.

Additionally, Dr Owen discussed how people may be spending more time on social media during lockdown, because they aren’t able to get out and see friends and family in person it’s a good way of feeling connected to them. However, this can also lead to pressures in terms of looking at more heavily filtered images of their friends and family as opposed to seeing them in person where they may not look so polished!

You can catch up on the radio interview, which is available up to June 1st. Dr Owen’s discussions are from around 55 minutes in.


The Science Centre

The Department of Psychology at Staffordshire University offers a range of undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in Psychology at the University’s £30 million Science Centre in Stoke-on-Trent. The department is home to the Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research, a large and active group of psychologists, PhD students and researchers conducting work into a variety of psychological disciplines and topic areas.

Understanding suicidal ideation and behaviour in individuals with chronic pain

Our Professor Karen Rodham explains the background, findings and future directions for her recent published review.

Why did we conduct our review?

Some research suggests that those who live with chronic pain are at higher risk of engaging in suicidal behaviour.

Much work has explored how different psychological factors might influence suicidal behaviour in helpful as well as unhelpful ways. Similarly much work has looked at how different psychological factors might help as well as hinder those who are trying to cope with chronic pain. Very little work has compared both pain and suicidal behaviour research areas.

Professor Karen Rodham

What did we focus on?

We wanted to explore this gap and look closely at the research in the chronic pain and suicidal behaviour fields to see if there were any common factors on which researchers could focus their attention in future studies.

How did we conduct our searches?

Our search of the research published between 2008 and 2018 produced 21,392 possible articles. After we had screened the papers for their relevance we identified 52 to include in our review. While we were reviewing them a further 17 papers were identified. This meant that we looked in depth at total of 69 papers.

Table with the word research written on with people sat around working together.

What were our findings?

We found that there were three promising areas that cut across both the suicide and the chronic pain research fields:

  1. Future Orientation: How people feel about their expected and imagined future
  2. Mental Imagery: How certain kinds of images in our mind’s eye can impact on how we feel.
  3. Psychological Flexibility: How our ability to accept our situation can impact on how we feel.

How you could use this research:

We suggest that greater cross over between the chronic pain and suicide research fields is really important if we are to increase our understanding of why some people with chronic pain are at greater risk of engaging in suicidal behaviour. These three areas would be a good place to start.


The Department of Psychology at Staffordshire University offers a range of undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in Psychology at the University’s £30 million Science Centre in Stoke-on-Trent. The department is home to the Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research, a large and active group of psychologists, PhD students and researchers conducting work into a variety of psychological disciplines and topic areas.

Interested in a Psychology degree? Come to an Open Day – for further details and to book your place at an open day please click here.

MSc Health Psychology Graduate Wins National Prize for their Dissertation!

By Dr Sarah Dean & Dr Gemma Hurst (Co-Directors, MSc Health Psychology)

As the course directors for the MSc Health Psychology, we are delighted to announce that former Staffordshire University student Sophie Phillips has been awarded the Division of Health Psychology’s MSc Research Project Prize for the best MSc dissertation in the UK!

Her dissertation titled “Do Physical Activity Calorie Expenditure (PACE) Food Labels Help Increase Healthier Food Choices? An Eye-Tracking Investigation” beat off strong competition from candidates at other institutions. Sophie’s prize is £200 toward the registration fee for this year’s Division of Health Psychology Conference and an oral presentation to be delivered at the conference in July at Manchester.

It is really exciting that Sophie has won because our graduate Sarah Higgins was a recipient of this prize in 2016 (click here for details of Sarah’s prize). Having two wins in the past four years is brilliant and really highlights the high quality of work that our students are able to achieve!

Supervisor Dr. Heather Semper commented:

“working with Sophie on her dissertation has been an absolute pleasure, her study was interesting and used novel innovative methodology. The findings of her study have real world implications and could be used to influence decisions about food label content. I am sure she is a rising star – one to watch in the health psychology research field”

Sophie says:

“I am delighted to have been awarded the DHP MSc research project prize. I am very grateful to the Health Psychology team at Staffordshire University for their support throughout the whole of the masters, and for providing me with this wonderful opportunity. I am really looking forward to attending and presenting my work at the DHP conference!”

Sophie is currently carrying out her PhD research at Durham University. This primarily involves exploring options for the measurement of movement-related behaviours (physical activity, sedentary behaviours and sleep) of pre-school children from socio-economically deprived communities. The aim of this research is to develop and evaluate a measurement tool that can be used to assess the movement related behaviours of pre-school children at a population/public health level. As part of her research, Sophie is working alongside the ‘A Better Start’ team, a programme and evaluation with a focus on reducing inequalities and improving the outcomes of children from low socio-economic status backgrounds.


The Department of Psychology at Staffordshire University offers a range of undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in Psychology at the University’s £30 million Science Centre in Stoke-on-Trent. The department is home to the Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research, a large and active group of psychologists, PhD students and researchers conducting work into a variety of psychological disciplines and topic areas.

Interested in a Psychology degree? Come to an Open Day – for further details and to book your place at an open day please click here.

Meet the StaffsPsych Graduates – Szilvia (MSc & Professional Doctorate in Health Psychology)

As part of our series of StaffsPsych Graduate Success Stories, we are pleased to introduce Szilvia who completed her MSc in Health Psychology and her Professional Doctorate in Health Psychology here at Staffordshire University. Find out about Szilvia’s experiences at on her course and her plans for the future:


Before studying at Staffordshire, I had completed previous Psychology-related courses and obtained various certificates, such as a BSc in Psychology (in Hungary), PGDip in Psychodrama and Creative Counselling. I then worked as a health care assistant in Staffordshire before starting my Health Psychology studies here at Staffordshire.

What attracted you to studying Psychology at Staffordshire University?

I was interested in Health Psychology, and Staffordshire University offered the MSc and Professional Doctorate courses in Health Psychology which other universities in the region didn’t offer.

What were the best parts of your experience at Staffs?

I really loved the interactive aspects of teaching; we received a great amount of support from the lecturers. The lecturers were always friendly, very well prepared and made the sessions enjoyable. I learned a lot about research methods during the MSc in Health Psychology, and because of that I felt confident to continue with the Doctorate in Health Psychology. Thanks to these good foundations, my critical analytical thinking and problem-solving skills have further developed during the doctorate. I found that these things are super important for people who work in health-related jobs, as science and societies are changing constantly. Also, the other major ‘best part’ was being with like-minded students, I made some friends for life at Staffs.

What was the biggest challenge(s) that you overcame whilst studying at Staffs?

To work and study at the same time, but I was given lots of support and advice how to work with these difficulties (e.g. book blocks of time off), so it all worked out at the end.

What have you done since leaving Staffs?

Because I became very interested in health behaviour interventions and I worked with insomnia patients during the doctorate, I enrolled into a graduate part-time course in Sleep Medicine at Oxford. Through this course I met Prof. Colin Espie (who is one of the directors of the Sleep Medicine Centre at Oxford) who developed the evidence-based CBTi – cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia patients. We talked about a possible research project in which I could utilise his CBTi approach and apply it to develop a new form of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for insomnia patients. Also, I’ve spent a week training retreat in Massachusetts with Jon Kabat-Zinn (the developer of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction programme). In terms of work, currently I’m working bank hours for an agency, which is part of the NHS, I’m in the process of relocating to New York.

What are your plans for the future?

In about five years I would like to take the ‘somnologist’ exam (sleep medicine specialist). Also, I would like to write a book about how to use Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for sleeping difficulties.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about applying to study Psychology at Staffordshire University?

There are lots of different kinds of support to help with literally anything. For example, there are lots of materials and even seminars to help with academic writing. Make sure to use those and listen to tips about time management and so forth.


Staffordshire University – The Home of Health Psychology

Staffordshire University has a history of excellence in teaching and research in Health Psychology, and is home to Staffordshire’s BPS Accredited Stage 1 MSc in Health Psychology and Stage 2 Professional Doctorate in Health Psychology. The Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research has active team of Health Psychologists who conduct research and provide consultancy in a range of health-related issues.

Keep updated with the latest Health Psychology news from Staffordshire University via following us on @StaffsPsych and via the #HealthPsychStaffs hashtag.

For further information about Health Psychology courses and research at Staffordshire University please visit the following webpages:

Student Blog: Presenting our MSc Health Psychology research at the 6th Staffordshire Health Psychology Conference

Two of our MSc Health Psychology students, Andrew and Jess, blog about their experiences presenting their MSc research, delivering workshops and attending the 6th Annual Staffordshire Health Psychology Conference.


Before I write about the conference, I just want to acknowledge all of the hard work me and my course mates have done over the past year, on the MSc Health Psychology course. It has been a struggle, but I am so proud of us for everything we’ve accomplished. We made it!

A few weeks ago, the 6th Annual Staffordshire University Health Psychology Conference took place, coinciding with my dissertation hand in. As you can imagine, it was quite the day! Not only was I looking forward to seeing all the people I had interacted with over the year, I was nervous about handing over something I had worked so hard on. Fingers crossed I get the grades I need.

As my postgraduate journey was coming to an end at Staffs, the opportunity to present at the annual Health Psychology Conference presented itself. I of course took that opportunity. When we all received the schedule for the day, it did occur to me that I was the only Masters student doing an oral presentation, and this did worry me at first. What if I was not going to be taken seriously, as someone who is not at the same professional level as most of the audience? Nerves did build up, but the support of my fellow course mates during the day really calmed me down. I am so glad we were all there to support each other at the end.

After it was all said and done, I felt amazing! I had many people congratulating me on a great presentation, and I really enjoyed the experience. If anyone is thinking about attending or presenting at a conference, I would highly recommend it. The networking, presenting, workshopping etc., are all valuable experiences that I feel are definitely helping me in my career journey. Maybe they may help you too.

Andrew.


The 6th Annual Staffordshire University Health Psychology Conference was such a lovely round off to the academic year. As an MSc Health Psychology student, this conference was also where we handed in our dissertation and closed the chapter on a challenging but rewarding year.

The presentations consisted of topics ranging from; promoting physical activity in sedentary office workers to MukBang (online eating behaviour) to experiences of Professional Doctorate students. These topics were also presented by a range of people at different stages in their careers such as MSc students, Professional Doctorate students and professionals working in their field. I feel that the range of talks given at the conference highlight the numerous areas that Health Psychology can be applied to.

The day was organised so well by Meghan and Stephanie and there was plenty of chances to network in between the talks. The conference consisted of oral presentations, poster presentations and workshops. I was lucky enough to present a poster presentation about online health seeking behaviours and facilitate a workshop on mindfulness and its application to health.

One of the activities from the mindfulness workshop

If you have the opportunity to attend this conference, then I wholeheartedly recommend it and if you get the chance to present at this conference, go for it! This conference was so enjoyable and allowed individuals of all levels to showcase the innovative Health Psychology research that is currently taking place at Staffordshire University, in a respectful and encouraging atmosphere.

I would just like to finish this post by saying, if you are thinking about doing the MSc in Health Psychology at Staffordshire University, you will not be disappointed. This year, I feel I have gained so much confidence in my abilities and have had the opportunity to explore so many different avenues of Health Psychology that I didn’t even know existed.

Jess.


Staffordshire University – The Home of Health Psychology

Staffordshire University has a history of excellence in teaching and research in Health Psychology, and is home to Staffordshire’s BPS Accredited Stage 1 MSc in Health Psychology and Stage 2 Professional Doctorate in Health Psychology. The Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research has active team of Health Psychologists who conduct research and provide consultancy in a range of health-related issues.

Keep updated with the latest Health Psychology news from Staffordshire University via following us on @StaffsPsych and via the #HealthPsychStaffs hashtag.

For further information about Health Psychology courses and research at Staffordshire University please visit the following webpages:

Meet the StaffsPsych Graduates – Laurna (BSc Psychology & MSc Health Psychology)

As part of our series of StaffsPsych Graduate Success Stories, we are pleased to introduce Laurna who graduated from our MSc Health Psychology course in 2016 after studying her BSc (Hons) Psychology here at Staffordshire University.

Find out about Laurna’s experiences at Staffordshire University and her career after completing her Master’s course:


I grew up in Staffordshire and studied down the road at Newcastle-under-Lyme College. I studied Psychology at GCSE and A-Level, and loved the subject so much that completing a psychology degree was a no brainer!

What attracted you to studying Psychology at Staffordshire University?

After my A Level results I entered Clearing. During this uncertain time, I knew that my first choice of potential universities was Staffordshire University. Throughout the clearing process I had an excellent experience talking to the staff in the Psychology Department, and they made the process so easy and straight forward. The helpfulness of the staff, in addition to the open day confirmed my decision that Staffs was for me.

Following my undergraduate degree, completing the Health Psychology Master’s degree at staffs, the home of health psychology, was an easy decision. The excellent teaching staff, with research and practice experience in various areas of Health Psychology affirmed my choice!

What were the best parts of your experience at Staffs?

The whole university experience was great, especially living with my friends and spending many hours in the Ember Lounge and LRV for gobble on a Wednesday night. During the Health Psychology Master’s Degree I was fortunate to be around a bunch of lovely people that over the year became great friends! The highlight of the whole experience was graduating with a First Class honours at undergraduate, and a Distinction at Master’s degree in the Italian Gardens at the Trentham Estate surrounded by my fellow students, friends, and family.

What have you done since leaving Staffs? How did your course help you with this?

During my undergraduate degree, I realised my passion for improving the quality of life of those living with neurodegenerative conditions. I volunteered at a dementia charity during my Master’s degree, and worked as a Clinical Studies Assistant at South Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, where I helped with many mental health and neurodegenerative research projects.

Following the Master’s degree I started my PhD in pain for people living with dementia at Keele University. Both my undergraduate and Master’s degree gave me the perfect foundation to start a PhD, both in relation to the research skills that I learnt, but also the encouragement and support provided from my tutors in the Psychology Department.

What are your plans for the future?

Following the PhD, I wish to work on research projects in the domain of health psychology, focusing upon those living with a neurodegenerative condition. At the moment however, I intend to focus on my PhD!

What advice would you give to someone thinking about applying to study Psychology at Staffordshire University?

I would advise to all of those that are interested in either a psychology degree or health psychology Master’s degree should attend one of the Staffordshire University open days. This day will allow you to talk to the psychology staff, and look at the facilities on offer.


Staffordshire University – The Home of Health Psychology

Staffordshire University has a history of excellence in teaching and research in Health Psychology, and is home to Staffordshire’s BPS Accredited Stage 1 MSc in Health Psychology and Stage 2 Professional Doctorate in Health Psychology. The Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research has active team of Health Psychologists who conduct research and provide consultancy in a range of health-related issues.

Keep updated with the latest Health Psychology news from Staffordshire University via following us on @StaffsPsych and via the #HealthPsychStaffs hashtag.

For further information about Health Psychology courses and research at Staffordshire University please visit the following webpages:

MSc Health Psychology students attend the 2018 Midlands Health Psychology Network Conference

Dr Gemma Hurst (Lecturer in Psychology & Co-Course Director MSc in Health Psychology) blogs about a recent conference trip with staff and students from the Health Psychology courses at Staffordshire University.

Staff and students recently attended the Midlands Health Psychology Network Conference. Three members of staff and five current MSc students from Staffordshire University attended the event, held at the Kettering Conference Centre on the 24th May.

A trip to the conference was built into the MSc Health Psychology teaching programme to ensure all current students had the opportunity to attend. One of our MSc students, Jessica, really valued the experience, commenting:

“A really engaging day showcasing many of the innovative ideas happening right now in Health Psychology in the Midlands

Students also valued the opportunity to meet and discuss the PhD research of Staffordshire University MSc Health Psychology Alumni, Lorna (pictured to the right).

The programme included oral and poster presentations covering a wide range of topics and methodologies, including: systematic reviews; quantitative and qualitative research; and intervention development and evaluation. Both staff and students also enthusiastically engaged in a co-creation workshop exploring creative data collection methodologies, including the use of Lego:

‘The MHPN conference provides an opportunity for our MSc students to experience an academic conference in a friendly and supportive environment. Our students took a keen interest in the wide variety of health psychology topics being presented and were able to network with other health psychologists and trainees to discuss their own research and career aspirations. Attendance at this conference will continue to be built into the MSc Health Psychology teaching programme and I look forward to future visits where I can introduce our new students to our graduates”

Dr Gemma Hurst, Co-Director MSc Health Psychology.


The Midlands Health Psychology Network

The MHPN hold a one day conference every year which is attended by around 100 members from across the Midlands and is a forum for health psychologists to share clinical and research experiences, information, knowledge and training. Existing members include MSc students, doctorate students, chartered health psychologists based at local NHS sites and regional universities, third sector employees, senior and early career academics, health practitioners and pharmacists. To learn more about the MHPN please visit their website (www.mhpn.co.uk).


Staffordshire University – The Home of Health Psychology

Staffordshire University has a history of excellence in teaching and research in Health Psychology, and is home to Staffordshire’s BPS Accredited Stage 1 MSc in Health Psychology and Stage 2 Professional Doctorate in Health Psychology. The Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research has active team of Health Psychologists who conduct research and provide consultancy in a range of health-related issues.

Keep updated with the latest Health Psychology news from Staffordshire University via following us on @StaffsPsych and via the #HealthPsychStaffs hashtag.

For further information about Health Psychology courses and research at Staffordshire University please visit the following webpages:

Successful BPS Accreditation Visit for Health Psychology at Staffordshire University

By Dr Rachel Povey, Associate Professor in Health Psychology.

Staffordshire University’s Health Psychology team are delighted to announce that their postgraduate Health Psychology programmes have been accredited for a further five years by the British Psychological Society (BPS), and were awarded nine commendations with no conditions. The British Psychological Society visited the University for two days in March, where they interviewed students, staff, placement providers, service users, and the senior management team.

“We had the first accredited Health Psychology programmes at both Stage 1 and 2, and so it is fantastic to have confirmation from the BPS that we continue to provide first class training in this area”.

Dr Emily Buckley, Head of the Department of Psychology

In particular, the Health Psychology programmes were commended for having a positive and strong ethos of developing reflective practice in students and for providing exemplary support to help foster positive and professional relationships with students.  The senior management team was also commended for their commitment and understanding of health psychology.

Health Psychology has a long and successful history at Staffordshire University with both programmes being the first to be accredited by the BPS in the UK, and being consistently commended for good practice. The MSc in Health Psychology (directed by Dr Gemma Hurst and Dr Sarah Dean) was also commended for embedding employability, developing applied skills and using real world assessments.

Some of our Health Psychology team celebrating after the recent BPS accreditation visit

The Professional Doctorate in Health Psychology (directed by Professor Karen Rodham and Dr Rachel Povey) provides applied training for students wanting to become Health Psychologists. All students gain professional skills in health-related placements, varying from NHS pain management services, to public health settings, to pupil referral units. The Professional Doctorate was commended for its widening access agenda (including providing training bursaries), the constructive engagement with placement providers, and the positive relationship with service users and carers.

Dr Nigel Thomas, Dean of School of Life Sciences and Education commended both teams for their hard work and commitment and stated:

“I’m delighted to see the health psychology programmes at Staffordshire University receiving such high praise from the BPS, this is a result of the level of dedication and commitment of the team”


Staffordshire University – The Home of Health Psychology

Staffordshire University’s Centre for Health Psychology is a centre of excellence for teaching and research in Health Psychology, and is home to Staffordshire’s BPS Accredited Stage 1 MSc in Health Psychology and Stage 2 Professional Doctorate in Health Psychology. The Centre for Health Psychology is part of the Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research.

Keep updated with the latest Health Psychology news from Staffordshire University via following us on @StaffsPsych and via the #HealthPsychStaffs hashtag.

For further information about Health Psychology courses and research at Staffordshire University please visit the following webpages:

Using photo-elicitation to understand experiences of quality of life, paraplegia & chronic pain

By Dr Robert Dempsey, Senior Lecturer in Psychology.

Together, working with one of our MSc in Health Psychology students and a fellow member of staff (Dr Amy Burton), we have just published a paper using a photo-elicitation approach to understand the lived experience of quality of life amongst a group of individuals experiencing paraplegia and chronic pain.

Our paper, currently in press in the Journal of Health Psychology, details a novel study where we were interested in better understanding the factors which give and take away from the quality of life experienced by people living with paraplegia (who experience paralysis to their lower limbs due to a spinal cord injury) and chronic ongoing pain. Many people who are paraplegic also experience chronic pain but studies to date have tended to focus on self-report measures of pain experiences. Using self-report measures of pain experiences might not allow researchers to really understand the nature and quality of pain, as the experience of pain can be difficult to objectively measure, and may not help understand how individuals ‘make sense’ of these experiences.

It is well known that managing chronic pain when living with paraplegia, and being reliant on a wheelchair for mobility, can be a challenging experience for many people. We were particularly interested in understanding how people in this situation manage their pain and maintain a good quality of life, whilst maintaining a focus on their experiences as individuals. A lot of qualitative research into people’s experiences of physical health conditions uses researcher-led interview schedules focused on topics that the researchers are interested in – this can be problematic as it may not allow the participants to direct the interview discussions towards topics and issues they feel are important when making sense of their own experiences.

To help us ensure our study was focused on our participants’ experiences we used a form of interview technique referred to as photoelicitation, sometimes known as photovoice. Rather than just asking our sample of participants a series of questions about their experiences, we asked them to spend a week taking photos of things they felt took away from their quality of life or improved their quality of life. Six photographs from each participant were then chosen for discussion in the interviews, during which we only asked the participants some general questions about their photograph (such as: ‘what does this photograph represent in terms of your quality of life?‘). Our discussions based on these photographs produced some incredibly rich and complex data, showing some of the complexities of living with paraplegia, chronic pain and also using a wheelchair for mobility (which we wouldn’t have found if we just asked a series of set questions).

For example, one of our participants discussed a photo she took of a toy dinosaur, similar the one shown on the right. The participant explained that this toy dinosaur represented her experiences with healthcare staff, particularly doctors, who she saw as being old-fashioned, not understanding of her pain experiences and frustrating to deal with. These communication problems contributed to this participant’s worsening pain as she was often prescribed ineffective medications attributed to her pain experiences not being understood by healthcare staff. Discussions like this demonstrated the complexity of our participants’ experiences living with pain and paraplegia whilst attempting to maintain a good quality of life – often related to a sense of frustration that factors like medical professionals should help improve, not worsen, their quality of life.

Interestingly, using a wheelchair was viewed as a factor that both improved and worsened our participants’ quality of life. Some participants were grateful for the wheelchair giving them independence, to be mobile and not be over-reliant on others to get around. However, this sometimes came at the cost of the wheelchair preventing our participants from being fully mobile (e.g. by not being able to access parts of their own home or having difficulty using public transport) and even caused further pain and discomfort due to sitting in the chair.

Using photo-elicitation, and allowing our participants to be much more involved in directing the interview discussions, produced some rich data participant-focused data which demonstrated the complexity of living with both paraplegia and chronic pain. Had we just used a standard set of written questions we would not have uncovered such complexity in our participants’ experiences. The use of photographs to guide the interviews could be incorporated into healthcare communication practices as it may help healthcare professionals to better understand their patients’ experiences, particularly of chronic pain which can be difficult to communicate verbally.

It was a pleasure to work with one of our MSc in Health Psychology students (Melanie Hughes), who led the data collection, and one of our Health Psychologist colleagues (Dr Amy Burton) on this analysis. This project represents one of a number of published studies and papers produced with students as part of our BPS Accredited Stage 1 MSc in Health Psychology course here at Staffordshire University.

We have published two papers based on this research, including a commentary paper reflecting on the use of photo-elicitation as an interview tool and our recent paper detailing our analysis of the interviews (click here). Links to the papers can be found below:


Staffordshire University – The Home of Health Psychology

Staffordshire University’s Centre for Health Psychology is a centre of excellence for teaching and research in Health Psychology, and is home to Staffordshire’s BPS Accredited Stage 1 MSc in Health Psychology and Stage 2 Professional Doctorate in Health Psychology. The Centre for Health Psychology is part of the Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research.

Keep updated with the latest Health Psychology news from Staffordshire University via following us on @StaffsPsych and via the #HealthPsychStaffs hashtag.

For further information about Health Psychology courses and research at Staffordshire University please visit the following webpages: