Developing optimism : a cognitive-behavioural intervention to reduce stress
Bryant, Danielle Louise
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Optimistic explanatory style refers to the way in which individual’s routinely attribute cause to the events in their lives (Ambramson et al., 1978) and can be successfully enhanced through the use of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) group-based workshops (Buchanan et al., 1999; Seligman et al., 2007). It has been successfully measured via the self-report Attributional Style Questionnaire (ASQ: Peterson et al., 1982) and has been associated with better performance and lower levels of state anxiety following negative feedback (Martin-Krumm et al., 2003), a lower incidence of stress-related physical illness (Jackson et al., 2002; Buchanan et al., 1999), and lower levels of job-related emotional distress (Hershberger et al., 2000). In 2005, teaching was identified as the second most stressful job undertaken within the UK (Johnson et al., 2005) and two independent reviews of the teacher-stress literature both concluded that further research is required to develop effective stress-management interventions (Kyriacou, 2000; Jarvis, 2002). Furthermore, Jarvis (2002) specifically highlights CBT-based interventions as an avenue which requires research within the teacher-stress domain. In 2005, Bryant (unpublished MSc thesis) highlighted a link between optimistic explanatory style and lower levels of stress in student Physical Education (PE) teachers who were undergoing the practicum element of their one-year postgraduate diploma of education. The current thesis explored the effectiveness of a CBT-based optimism training programme in developing optimism and reducing stress in student and neophyte PE teachers. A longitudinal, repeated-measures, mixed methods design was employed in a naturalistic setting. Using a pre-test, intervention, post-test design, the effects of CBT-based training were shown to enhance optimism and positive affectivity, and reduce cognitive stress in student teachers during the practicum element of their professional training. To strengthen causal links, a dose-response design was used to provide enhanced training to a sub-group of student teachers. Although differences in optimism and perceived cognitive stress were present in the results, they were not significant. Finally, a qualitative interview based follow-up study identified that participants who had received the prolonged CBT-based optimism training exhibited higher levels of optimistic explanatory style, lower levels of stress and more dispositional optimism than participants who received either the initial or no optimism training. Theoretical and practical implications of the current findings and directions for future research are discussed.