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A recent study found that using “work-focused” cognitive behavioral therapy to help employees suffering from common mental health disorders can lower employer costs by reducing injured workers' time off the job.
The study, conducted in the Netherlands and published this month in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, analyzed data on 168 employees who were absent from work and received CBT from psychotherapists to address issues such as depression and anxiety.
Other studies conducted in Canada and Europe that reported similar benefits from work-focused CBT also examined relatively small groups of employees.
Still, the findings of the smaller studies are “generalizable,” said Dr. Glenn Pransky, who conducts research on disability and return-to-work issues for Liberty Mutual Group Inc. in Hopkinton, Mass.
The studies “are drawing from a usual population,” he said. “They don't seem to have a huge referral bias.”
The April study found that employees absent due to common mental health disorders returned to the job an average 65 days earlier when provided work-focused CBT.
The employees were split into two groups. One received standard CBT without a work focus; the other received the therapy focusing on work-related problems that employees face.
For the work-focused groups, therapists used a CBT technique of consistently explaining to the employees how work offers them self-esteem and daily structure. Therapists also helped them draft a detailed plan for returning to work, focusing on how the employees would engage in specific activities.
While participants in both groups experienced mental health improvements, re-searchers said, those in the work-focused group returned fully to their jobs an average of 65 days sooner.
The financial advantage was an average of $5,275 for employers whose employees received the work-focused CBT vs. those that did not, researchers said.
“People with depression or anxiety may take a lot of sick leave to address their problems,” Suzanne Lagerveld, a researcher at the Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research and lead author of the study, said in a statement.
“However, focusing on how to return to work is not a standard part of therapy,” she said. “This study shows that integrating return-to-work strategies into therapy leads to less time out of work with little to no compromise in people's psychological well-being.”
Some prominent workers compensation payers are taking an unusual step: actively recommending cognitive behavioral therapy for claimants who suffer from chronic pain and psychosocial issues that are hindering their recovery.