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Why do so many wellbeing programmes fail to see results?

April 06, 2023 1:08 PM | Siobhan Waterhouse (Administrator)

We were left inspired and invigorated by our March Lunchtime Learning event with South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute’s (SAHMRI) Matthew Iasello and Joep van Agteren who presented the findings from their huge systematic review and meta-analysis (419 randomised controlled trials, 53,288 participants) into the efficacy of a range of psychological interventions. 

Matthew and Joep drew on their learnings from delivering mental wellbeing programs to thousands of Australians, and wrapped them up into very straightforward tips for practitioners and teams considering psychological strategies in the promotion of wellbeing.

Please find their slides here.

Among the many interesting findings, they found: 

  • Mindfulness-based interventions appear to be most effective for increasing wellbeing states. This was followed by Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT); more so than Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), for example, which was not found to be meaningfully significant in building wellbeing on its own

  • Positive Psychology Interventions (PPIs) focused on a single element, e.g. Best Possible Self, Acts of Kindness, had a significantly lower effect size when used on their own. Thus, if you want to see impacts on wellbeing, group your PPIs

  • The only PPI that was found to be meaningful on its own was Character Strengths

  • Wellbeing intervention efficacy drops off after a few months. Much like going to the gym, mental wellbeing and wellbeing programmes need to be maintained and sustained

  • More intensive wellbeing activity is more impactful than ‘short talks’. The short talk approach can work for engagement, but if you want to build wellbeing, intensity of the intervention is important.

  • One-on-one activity works better than group-based activities, and both are are better than online interventions when it comes to increasing wellbeing states

  • Think about positive and negative outcomes separately. There is evidence to illustrate that you can record both positive wellbeing and mental ill health concurrently, thus it’s important to measure both, independently, and don't assume one impacts the other. 

  • It's important to understand the main aim of your wellbeing programme - structure matters, more so than simply being in a social environment talking about wellbeing. 

  • How interventions are ‘operationalised’ matters - think about what to build around an intervention to ensure it’s effective in building wellbeing.

Ultimately, the study found evidence of the protective effect of focusing on wellbeing, and a relationship between positive psychology and positive mental states. You can read their research here.

It was great to see so many of you on the Zoom. We will watch with anticipation for the results from Matt and Joep’s follow-up study in the near future, and keep you all up to date, too.

Our next Lunchtime Learning series takes place in June, with the brilliant Sue Langley, founder of the Langley Group. More info will be with you soon.

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