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Symbiotics' Karen Moore raises awareness of mental wellbeing

Symbiotics are pleased to attend a lot of conferences over the course of a year and delighted to be gathering momentum with speaking engagements alongside this. Karen Moore is our principal occupational psychologist and has a busy public speaking calendar where she is able to share her knowledge and promote mental wellbeing across all professions. I sat down with Karen to find out a bit more about why she feels so strongly about raising awareness of mental wellbeing through her presentations and how she sees the industry changing.

Karen Moore

We're aware that a focus of yours this year has been to raise awareness of mental wellbeing through presenting at various conferences – what about this appeals to you the most and why are you keen to share your knowledge?

I am passionate about this topic, which has meant that my public speaking engagements have been more enjoyable. Mental wellbeing is a topic for all industries and employers because it affects everybody. My primary concern and reason for raising awareness is so that when we are looking at mental wellbeing, we do so from the right perspective: not looking to diagnose those who are ill, but making sure that everyone stays as well as they can be.

What is your background in this area?

I am an Occupational Psychologist and have been involved in corporate training and development for a long time. Part of this work has increasingly become about the resilience of individuals to cope with the stresses that change puts on them. These can include the demands of working practises, the fast moving pace of work, globalisation and stretched targets as well as all of the other aspects of their life outside of work. I've seen the impact that stresses can have on an individual and the influence it can have on their mental wellbeing. As an occupational psychologist I am concerned with working with people who are predominantly well in the workplace, as opposed to clinical psychologists who work with those who have a recognised, specific need. Occupational psychology is all about keeping people well and effective.

What is the key thing that you want people to take away from your presentations?

That everybody has mental health and we do people who are at the ‘not okay' end of the spectrum a disservice by thinking it only applies to them. Research shows that the number of people who will suffer from a mental health condition in their life is astronomically high. This is why it is such an important issue and why I use the term mental wellbeing as opposed to mental health, because it is more of a positive way of approaching it.

What have you found to be the most challenging part of your career to date?

Standing up in front of an audience, definitely. I have spent a lot of my career doing one-to-one counselling and feedback, so that is my comfort zone. Standing up in front of an audience is a challenge, but the importance of the message can't be shared to its full impact in a one-to-one situation quickly enough. Although mediums like social media are useful at sharing the message, the best impact can be made when you hear someone talk about it.

What changes have you seen in the industry in your career so far?

As a young psychologist I joined a profession that was overwhelmingly white, middle-class, male dominated. This has definitely changed, as the vast majority of psychology graduates generally, and occupational psychologists as a result, are now female, and the diversity in other respects is huge. The British Psychological Society introduced a Chartered Member grade, requiring further years of study and demonstrated competence for this to be achieved. This is regarded as the gold standard for psychologists, and is particularly respected by clients in the Middle East and Asia. Also, the profession is now regulated within the UK by the Health and Care Professions Council, adding a further level of reassurance for clients about the standards of practice. Then, the nature of the work we do has changed. In the 1980's the first proper definition of the areas of work was carried out, and these underwent a substantial review a couple of years ago, resulting in five clear areas that occupational psychologists expect to undertake: Psychological Assessment at Work; Learning, Training and Development; Leadership, Engagement and Motivation; Wellbeing and Work; Work Design, Organisational Change and Development. As you can see, the services Symbiotics offer fall into a number of these areas.

What has been the biggest challenge you've found as an occupational psychologist?

Perhaps the biggest challenge is helping clients to see the added value they get from using an occupational psychologist. Too many areas that we work in are covered by other roles, principally HR/L&D. As psychologists, we carry out what is called 'evidence-based practice', which means that there is a research basis with substantial evidence to support the effectiveness of our interventions. Because it takes at least three years of further study and additional qualifications to become a Chartered Member of the British Psychological Society and registered with the HCPC (without which the title Occupational Psychologist cannot legally be used), Occupational Psychologists do tend to charge more for their services than non-qualified individuals. My feeling is that most organisations would not trust just any Tom, Dick or Harry to do their accounts but would use a Chartered Accountant, so why not use a Chartered Psychologist for work that can affect the lives of your employees?

Are there any upcoming developments you see making a big impact within the mental wellbeing industry?

I think that the government initiatives on wellbeing at work are very positive and influencing a wider acceptance globally, even in those countries where it has not been as easy or encouraged to talk about mental wellbeing. This is driven by the globalisation of firms, as those who work within a Western environment take their practises across the world and apply the principles. This sets an expectation across other local employers, as those companies who are seen to look after their people are viewed as the employers of choice. This can include changing the working practises so that the stress isn't applied in the first place, not just considering a cure afterwards.

What are the biggest challenges you see the mental wellbeing industry facing?

Changing the terminology from mental health to mental wellbeing, as this is still seen as a stigma for those who are at the 'not okay' end of the spectrum. We are getting better as a country at overcoming disability discrimination in other areas but need to make sure that, just because mental ill health is an invisible disability, it still receives the same level of support. With a lack of provision here the onus remains on the individual to seek the help they require, which by the very nature of their situation they probably don't want to do.

What do you see as the main benefits that Symbiotics offer?

We offer a simple diagnostic tool that helps to identify certain areas where an individual is experiencing elevated levels of stress. This means that the triggers can be addressed in a practical way to help the individual, as well as a corporate level to help other people in the same situation. This helps to take the step to create a well workplace for all.

We also have psychologists who are able to give feedback to individuals, and point people to the appropriate resource for support as required.

To find out more about how Symbiotics can help, find out more about seeing Karen speak or ask any questions surrounding mental wellbeing in the workplace then please contact us.