No Comments

There’s money in stress, or at least in helping people deal with it.

That’s the business plan of eight month old Wellington start-up company Umbrella Health and Resilience, whose workplace oriented training package is set to expand into Australia and Britain.

UHR director and founder Gaynor Parkin is a registered clinical psychologist and two days a week lecturer in psychology at Victoria University. She has attracted Viclink investment to her business and is using their expertise to help develop her fledgling start up.

She’s also the author of a book published in 2008 in conjunction with Consumer called ‘I’ve had it up to here: From stress to strength’.

From that she “received a lot of phone calls and emails, asking if I could come and talk, give a workshop, present something,” she says. “The business has grown from that.”

Parkin also has a passion for psychology and working with people to make changes for the better in their lives. Seeing her own children’s development and the intersection of nature versus nurture is also a driver to help them grow in a resilient way she says.

Resilience can be described as a way of acting, thinking and feeling where you can stay strong and calm and cope with life even when under pressure says Parkin.

Much of the evidence-based and best practice research around resilience developed from observing groups of peoples’ reactions after natural disasters or other traumatic experiences. Some cope well, some fall to pieces.

Understanding why, and what people can do differently to cope with difficult circumstances has been built into the Umbrella training package.

She’s aimed the business at workplaces in particular, as this is where many of us experience the most stress and feel under the most pressure.

There are five key modules delivered in either a one day or two half day sessions, with an all-important follow up review (may be individual or small group) a few weeks later.

The aspects covered are:

• Physical health – looking a how to start and maintain essential health habits, as the cornerstone of building resilience. If a person’s not physically well, maintaining resilience is a challenge.

• Managing thinking, this is called ‘flexible thinking’ in the Umbrella training – telling yourself things that are helpful compared to unhelpful thoughts

• Emotional intelligence, managing your emotions — learning how to deal with strong emotions, especially, how to stay calm, remain productive, and maintain relationships when under pressure.

• Realistic optimism, staying hopeful – realising that even if things go pear-shaped, it won’t be forever. Those who are good at being optimistic are generally better at coping, and are more likely to problem solve and to ask for help.

• Making use of social support networks and nurturing professional and personal relationships – it is easier to stay resilient if you’re connected to others, it’s much harder to be resilient on your own

• Working smarter – ideas for improving work-life balance, time tips, and improving recovery from work.

Parkin says that while other organisations may provide similar advice and training, or have motivational type speakers, as far as she’s aware, UHR is the only one that employs clinical psychologists.

“We’re trained to know how to help people make lasting behaviour change,” she says. “For us, the litmus test is do the participants make and maintain changes.”

The workshop training modules are also all developed from scientific research. ‘If the research indicates new best practice, it can immediately be incorporated and adapted to the course material’ says Parkin.

Based on qualitative feedback, UHR is achieving positive changes in participants’ lives, and the company is currently collecting data to demonstrate this quantitatively.

Parkin prefers to have about 15 people in each course which is a good number to share experiences as well as provide individual help during the workshop. It is also more manageable from a follow up point of view.

Follow up reviews are a critical component says Parkin, as participants are asked how they’re going with making changes to their lives.

• What’s working, what’s not?

• What else is needed to do better?

• What is getting in the way of further change?

• Has there been lasting behaviour change?

Its cost is presently $500/person/day (including follow up), which she says from market research is at the low to medium end compared to some professional development courses which charge from $1000 – $1500/person.

“Our business advisers want us to bump it up,” she says. “In my view we’re still growing, testing, getting feedback about how we can do better and improve. Also, it is important to me as apsychologist, that we’re offering training that is affordable.”

About 1000 people have been through the courses so far. These have been provided by Parkin herself, and having trained other trainers UHR courses can also be run by a South Island colleague, others in Wellington and an Auckland based associate.

The goal is to have UHR as a broad team of expertise, based in different locations around the world. Based on her training modules, and a trainer’s manual that outlines a step by step workshop, Parkin sees the concept as being scalable.

She’s still working on how to protect her intellectual property.

“We’re not sure yet,” she says. “A service business is very different from a technology business.”

Parkin says running a business is immensely different from her work experiences so far.

“I have to apply my own training at times,” she says. “It’s about staying calm, watching what I’m thinking, what I’m telling myself and making use of my support networks. I’m trying to practice what I preach.”