Physical activity and sedentary behaviour counselling: Attitudes and practices of mental health professionals

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Shrestha, Nipun ORCID: 0000-0003-3542-8130, Pedisic, Zeljko ORCID: 0000-0003-2886-3556, Jurakic, Danijel, Biddle, Stuart ORCID: 0000-0002-7663-6895 and Parker, Alexandra ORCID: 0000-0002-2398-6306 (2021) Physical activity and sedentary behaviour counselling: Attitudes and practices of mental health professionals. PLoS ONE, 16 (7). ISSN 1932-6203


Despite recent interest in the mental health benefits of increasing physical activity (PA) and reducing sedentary behaviour (SB), little is known about PA and SB counselling provided by mental health professionals. Therefore, the aim of this study was to explore the attitudes and practices of mental health professionals in recommending more PA and less SB to their clients. Quantitative data were collected using a modified version of the Exercise in Mental Illness Questionnaire in a sample of 17 Australian mental health professionals. The collected data were reported using percentages (for categorical data) and means and standard deviations (for numerical data). Additionally, in focus group discussions, 10 mental health professionals provided in-depth information about their clinical practice, facilitators, and perceived barriers in recommending more PA and less SB. They also provided suggestions on how to potentially improve their PA and SB counselling practices. The focus groups were audio-recorded, transcribed and analysed using thematic analysis.Only 35.3% of participants have undergone formal training in recommending PA in the treatment of mental illness. Most participants (64.7%) ranked PA counselling among the top three types of mental health treatment. All participants reported recommending PA to their clients at least "occasionally", while 88% of them also provided SB counselling. However, the recommendations provided were usually not specific. The most commonly reported barriers for providing PA and SB counselling were a lack of knowledge and confidence. Participants also believed that, if they were more active themselves, they would be in a better position to recommend PA to their clients, by sharing their own experience of evidence-informed strategies designed to increase PA and reduce SB. The findings of this study indicate that mental health professionals commonly provide generic PA and SB counselling to their clients. PA and SB counselling in the mental health setting could be improved by: including training on PA and SB counselling in formal education and continued professional training for mental health professionals; implementing interventions to increase PA and reduce SB among mental health professionals themselves; and ensuring support from an exercise or PA promotion specialist as a part of a multi-disciplinary approach to mental health care.

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Item type Article
DOI 10.1371/journal.pone.0254684
Official URL
Subjects Historical > FOR Classification > 1117 Public Health and Health Services
Current > FOR (2020) Classification > 4206 Public health
Current > Division/Research > Institute for Health and Sport
Historical > Faculty/School/Research Centre/Department > Institute of Sport, Exercise and Active Living (ISEAL)
Keywords professional training, mental health professionals; intervention, sedentary behavior, mental health benefits, physical activity
Citations in Scopus 1 - View on Scopus
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