Professional Doctorate in Health Psychology thesis portfolio (Edwards : 2019) : Obesity and uncontrolled eating from a health psychology perspective

Edwards, Sophie Kathryn (2019) Professional Doctorate in Health Psychology thesis portfolio (Edwards : 2019) : Obesity and uncontrolled eating from a health psychology perspective. Doctoral thesis, London Metropolitan University.


This portfolio and the accompanying competency folders contain over three years of reflective practice logs and demonstrate evidence of how I have met the required competencies for the Professional Doctorate in Health Psychology. In the form of four case studies, one systematic review and a research thesis conducted over a period of two years, it shows my range of knowledge and skills gained within Health Psychology. Further to this, it demonstrates how I have learnt practically to apply health psychology theory to a commissioned health improvement service in order to become a skilled Health Psychology Practitioner.

The largest section of this portfolio is that of my research study (section C3) and reflecting back on the process of undertaking this, I can certainly see significant growth in skills as a researcher. I originally undertook the study because, as a weight management practitioner, I often came across obese patients who believed that they were food addicts. However, despite there being a large body of research looking at the topic, very little qualitative research existed which attempted to explore the experience of perceived food addiction in those trying to lose weight. Such research as was available took the approach that ‘food addiction’ could simply be mapped onto the existing criteria for substance use disorder rather than approaching it from a neutral standpoint which might allow unique features of the experience to come to light. During the process I found myself influenced by previous research and had repeatedly to remind myself of my original aims. The results of this study identified extreme uncontrolled eating behaviours that are not currently targeted in standard weight management interventions and which participants interpreted as food addiction. They also reported feeling stigmatised due to their belief in food addiction which posed as a barrier to seeking help. I believe that these are important findings and have implications both for those designing weight management interventions and for health care professionals in general.

The systematic review I undertook (section C3.1) was particularly challenging for me because I had never undertaken one before. Although protocols do exist, I had to make some key preliminary decisions myself and often doubted my judgement. My review looked at the effectiveness of mindfulness-based interventions a range of physical and psychological measures relating to people with HIV. One decision I had to make was whether to include unpublished studies in my review. This was a difficult decision as in many ways it would have been simpler not to. However, given the existence of publication bias, I decided that I should include unpublished work in order to draw more balanced conclusions as to the effectiveness of these therapies. My review concluded that there is not enough evidence to recommend these interventions over the standard treatment as yet. I believe this, is itself an important finding as mindfulness is currently very popular in the media and this may mean individuals seek it out when it is not necessarily the most effective treatment option available to them.

The competency which came most naturally to me was that of behaviour change interventions. I develop, implement and evaluate these regularly as part of my professional duties and believe that I am skilled in this area. The case study detailed in this portfolio (C2) was undertaken very early on in my training and was the first time I had decided upon the assessment, content of the intervention and evaluation process myself. I was pleased with the outcome of the intervention which targeted emotional eating and it has since been embedded in the standard weight management intervention provided by my employer. I have since gone on to develop other interventions in and out of my current job role and the processes set out in this competency have provided me with a framework for doing so effectively.

I also very much enjoyed the teaching and training competency (section C5). The case study outlines a lecture I undertook at London Metropolitan University for MSc Health Psychology students. I developed my skills in creating teaching materials, such as PowerPoint presentations, significantly during this process as previously I had underestimated the importance of these in keeping students engaged. I learnt to take all different learning styles into account when planning a teaching session as I had previously assumed that the approach to which I respond well would suit everyone. I found the evaluation process challenging, particularly watching back footage of my teaching. However, this has allowed me to become more relaxed and natural during teaching which means that I can concentrate on the reactions of the students to the subject matter rather than worrying about how I personally am coming across to them.

The consultancy competency (section C4) proved the most challenging for me but also allowed for the most development. The case study outlined in this portfolio was particularly difficult due to the unwillingness of the manager to be fully involved with the consultancy process. In hindsight I should have set clearer expectations at the outset and insisted that he met these throughout. I believe that it was also a mistake not to charge for my time; he may have valued the process and been more involved if he had been paying for it. This highlights how much I have developed since then in that I did not value my skills and time sufficiently, which is not the case today. I have since been involved in several pieces of consultancy work and have always charged for my time and have drawn up a clear contract before undertaking any work. These have been much more successful pieces of work and although the case study in this portfolio does not outline the most positive piece of consultancy work I have been involved in, it is certainly the one from which I learned the most.

Section C1 outlines how I have developed my generic professional skills throughout my training to become a proficient Health Psychologist. I have been very fortunate to have been employed by such a supportive and innovative healthcare provider as they have given me the opportunity to gain experience in many areas and to work with a wide range of professionals.

I can see a vast improvement in my skills and confidence between when I first undertook my training in 2014 and today. Reflective practice and supervision have been key in my development as well as continuing to take part in training and learning; I will maintain these practices during the entirety of my professional career.

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