Doctor of Philosophy
School of Psychology
Bilich-Erich, Linda L., Acceptance and commitment therapy with the police force: evaluating its efficiency and mechanisms for change, Doctor of Philosophy thesis, School of Psychology, University of Wollongong, 2009. http://ro.uow.edu.au/theses/3554
Police officers experience a high level of stress that results from operational and organisational pressures associated with their professional occupation (Hart & Cotton, 2002). This can result in harmful consequences for the individual, the workplace and their family, with a plethora of literature outlining the increase in work / family conflict for police officers. The police and stress literature also indicates that police officers can be prone to utilising unhelpful coping skills, such as avoidance, to manage their stress.
The current research project describes the implementation and investigation of a worksite stress management intervention called Mindfulness-based Emotional Intelligence Training (MBEIT) intervention. MBEIT was designed to promote emotional well-being and workplace effectiveness, and improve interpersonal relationships (personal and workrelated) amongst NSW police officers. The intervention is based on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) (Hayes, Strosahl, & Wilson, 1999). ACT promotes emotionally intelligent behaviour by increasing people’s ability to utilise emotions as information, and to act effectively in the context of emotions and emotionally charged thoughts. This is accomplished through mechanisms such as acceptance and defusion whilst pursuing personally meaningful values.
A total of 123 police officers were randomly assigned to either the MBEIT condition or the control condition. The MBEIT intervention consisted of a total of 4 days of training that was completed over 4 months. Outcome (i.e., mental health, innovativeness, sick leave) and process of change (i.e., acceptance) measures were administered at baseline (Time 1), at the completion of the training after four months (Time 2), and again 3 months later (Time 3). Participants in the MBEIT intervention group also completed a Personal Values Questionnaire (Blackledge & Ciarrochi, 2005) at Time 1 and Time 2 in order to examine their values and the impact of MBEIT on values over time. Facilitators were also monitored in order to assess adherence to MBEIT.
Results indicated that adherence to the MBEIT protocols by facilitators was satisfactory. Participants in the MBEIT intervention showed significantly greater improvements in their general mental health compared to those in the control condition over the 4 month training period (T1 to T2). It was predicted that an increase in psychological flexibility, or acceptance, would mediate this effect but mediation was not found. Over the 4 month period, participant’s increased their level of success in pursuing their family relationship values, and also indicated that they chose their relationship values for more intrinsic reasons over time. There were no other significant changes in any of the other outcome measures over time or between groups.
The study found modest evidence for the effectiveness of the MBEIT intervention. There was no supporting evidence to indicate that the intervention is mediated by acceptance, although trainers were assessed as adhering to an ACT protocol. A potential explanation for the relatively modest effects of the intervention was that the sample of police officers who were assessed had high psychological functioning and positive mental health prior to the program commencing. The theoretical and practical implications of this research along with the applicability of a worksite stress management program for police populations are discussed. Further research is necessary to examine the effectiveness of the program with police officers with lower initial levels of mental health, using a larger sample size, and trialing a program of shorter length.