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Fully funded PhD Studentship

In 2014, BACP's Board of Governors approved funding for a student to undertake a three year, full-time PhD. The application process was undertaken in September 2014 and Emma Broglia was the successful candidate. Emma works closely with the Research Department at BACP and updates on the progress of her research will be posted here.


Project: A feasibility trial of the effectiveness and impact of counselling in universities and/or colleges of further education

Supervisor: Professor Michael Barkham (University of Sheffield)


Emma Broglia BSc MRes, PhD student (University of Sheffield)

Emma completed a Psychology BSc at the University of Birmingham in 2010 and specialised further into cognitive health when she completed an MRes in Brain Imaging and Cognitive Neuroscience, also at the University of Birmingham. During this time, Emma completed a summer scholarship with the Wellcome Trust investigating patient quality of life which led to a long term research placement exploring adolescent mental health, academic performance, sleep habits, BMI and technology use. Throughout these projects she became increasingly intrigued by cognitive health in young adults and is now passionate about understanding the lifestyle factors which impact cognitive function during this period. After her master degree, Emma jointly led an adolescent cohort study within schools across the West Midlands to explore the impact of sleep and modern technology use on academic performance, mental health and BMI. The study finished earlier this year and since this post she has been working across a number of clinical trials at the University of Birmingham exploring child health and maternity services in the NHS. Throughout this time she has been drawn to evidence based research which uses robust mixed-methodology to evaluate treatment services and inform policy. It was a combination of these interests which drew Emma to the proposed PhD studentship as well as the prospect of contributing to the research achievements of the BACP. Outside of her research interests she enjoys trail running, hiking, rock climbing and has a personal interest in nutrition.


Progress update from Emma - 21/09/2015

Unlike psychological services in the NHS, counselling services embedded in Further and Higher Education (FE/HE) face additional challenges of showing effectiveness in a shorter period of time, and with clients whose location is often fleeting. Students only have access to counselling services during their studies and their mental health can have a substantial impact on their academic ability. This is a unique issue which not only requires support from embedded counsellors who are experienced in this context, but also those willing to be responsive to the contemporary student demographic.

This has been recognised by the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) who are funding a PhD at the University of Sheffield. Doctoral work is being undertaken by Emma Broglia and supervised by Professor Michael Barkham and Dr Abigail Millings. The research aims to inform the design of a Randomised Controlled Trial (RCT) exploring the impact of embedded student counselling on clinical, academic and institutional outcomes. In doing so, Emma’s PhD will produce the initial pilot and feasibility work to prepare for the full RCT. With the first year nearing completion, the feasibility trial is taking form and due to commence in February 2016. The design of the trial has been informed by: a scoping review of scientific literature; a survey evaluation of embedded counselling services; telephone interviews with heads of service; a multi-site randomised pilot study of clinical outcome measures; and various engagements with the University and College Counselling Sector and the newly formed Practice Research Network. The trial will consist of 3 conditions: 1) counselling as standard practice (control); 2) counselling with technology assisted feedback (intervention); and 3) condition 2 with integrated feedback with clinical measures. Feasibility work will take place across two university counselling centres for a 12-month period with a qualitative sub-study exploring client and counsellor experience.


Progress update from Emma - 18/02/2015

For many years, counselling staff have faced a dramatic growth in the number of students seeking their services, many presenting with more advanced and often complex mental health problems. At the same time, University counselling centres have also started to adopt more innovative approaches into their services such as e-therapies - that is, using technology to facilitate therapy - in order to appeal to a wider demographic. At a time of increased demand and severity it is crucial to understand the effectiveness of counselling. Accordingly, BACP and University of Sheffield have combined efforts to build an evidence base with the aim of supporting the development and effectiveness of student counselling services.

As a starting point, a newly developed survey has recently (February 2015) been distributed to the University and College (UC) counselling sector. The survey aims to capture the main features and functions of the UC counselling sector and to identify factors that impact on counselling services. This information will be used to address aspects of a feasibility trial for my PhD supervised by Professor Michael Barkham and Dr Abigail Millings. In particular, the survey will provide information on the different pathways into receiving and maintaining counselling support. It will also capture difficulties experienced when gathering outcome data as well as information on the time points these outcome measures are administered. The survey will provide an initial snap shot of some of the e-therapies already being used across the sector and provide information on how e-therapies and other online interactive support tools are viewed by counselling and therapeutic staff. A range of issues that will help to inform the feasibility trial will be addressed in more detail through follow-up telephone interviews with counsellors who are willing to be contacted after the survey.