Facilitating return to work can be challenging due to the complexity of work disability. Few studies have examined rehabilitation programs based on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy that intend to support return to work, and none have investigated therapists’ experience with providing such programs. The aim of this study was therefore to explore therapists’ experience of addressing the return to work process in an inpatient occupational rehabilitation program based on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.
This was a qualitative interview study supported by participant observation. Therapists were interviewed regarding their experiences with addressing return to work in an inpatient occupational rehabilitation program based on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. In addition, the rehabilitation program was investigated through participant observation. The interviews were analysed according to Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis and informed by an analysis of field notes from the participant observation.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy was experienced as a meaningful approach to facilitate return to work, as it allowed therapists to address all relevant aspects of the individual participant’s life that might influence work participation. The therapists’ twofold goal was to support participants in building both a meaningful life and sustainable work participation. To do so, they attempted to instil long-term and interrelated processes concerning ownership, causes of sick leave, relation to expectations, the values of work, and the scope of agency.
Unfolding values connected to work participation might reconcile the tension between work and family life by integrating work with other areas of life. Providing work participation with personal meaning also seems especially commensurable with a context where economy presents a poor incentive for return to work. Therapists should, however, be attentive to the need to secure the prominence of return to work by relating participants’ chosen themes explicitly to their return to work process. Therapists should also be aware of the dilemma that may arise when they attempt to refrain from providing advice while simultaneously encouraging actions they consider appropriate to facilitate sustainable work participation. In addition, having an individual-oriented approach to occupational rehabilitation may obscure the extent to which return to work is a multi-stakeholder process.