Increased self-awareness in the process of returning to work

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A group of employees on sick leave, living in the Oslo area, Norway, was offered participation in a counselling programme, based on Gestalt theory, mindfulness and phenomenological understanding of the body.


To explore the participants’ processes of change related to their increased ability to work.

Method design:

This qualitative study is based on modified grounded theory.


A total of 12 female employees, all who had increased work ability 1 year after the programme, participated in open focus-group interviews at the end of the programme.


The participants’ experiences from processes of change are described through the following categories: becoming more aware of one’s own thoughts, emotions and bodily reactions; taking oneself seriously and accepting oneself; being secure enough to face being challenged; realizing new possibilities and choices and trying out new ways of acting. The participants further described what had been helpful in these processes. Experience of a secure setting and open-minded listening seemed important for getting the courage to open up to all reactions. Then, they could explore new ways of thinking, communicating and behaving. Discussing existential issues such as their core values was important. This, together with being allowed to take their own emotions seriously and being challenged by the counsellors, had encouraged the processes of change.


The women described how experiences of increased awareness contributed to reconstruction of their self-understanding and opened up for new possibilities. This seemed to have provided them with new ways of communicating and acting, which enhanced participation in work. The context of the learning programme, the existential issues and counselling challenges appeared as essential in these processes of change. The findings give insights into aspects that may be important when designing rehabilitation programmes.

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