Development of an Acceptance and Commitment Therapy-informed tool to help nurses discuss weight management with people with a diagnosis of serious mental illness.

People with a serious mental illness (SMI) have high rates of obesity which can result in early death. This research will develop a tool to be used by mental health nurses to initiate conversations about weight and to support people with SMI to achieve their goals. The tool will be informed by acceptance and commitment therapy - an evidenced based approach to weight management.

Start date

1 July 2021


36 months full time or 5 years part time

Application deadline

Funding source

The University of Surrey and West London NHS Trust

Funding information

  • Full-time Tuition Fees at the Home rate
  • Stipend £15,009 p.a.
  • Training support grant £500 p.a.
  • Consumables grant £1,000 p.a.


People with serious mental illness (SMI: schizophrenia, bipolar disorder) experience nearly double the rate of obesity compared with the general population. Obesity is a preventable risk factor for conditions such as cardiovascular disease and cancer which are increased in this group and contribute to reduced life expectancy (15 to 20 year deficit).  Nurses are well placed to intervene, but weight management is not a part of routine mental health care. A tool to help nurses talk to people with SMI about weight management is a low cost, scalable intervention which could help address this. Any such tool should be theory-informed to facilitate understanding of the mechanisms for change. Current evidence suggests that behavioural approaches using mindfulness techniques, such as acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), are effective for weight management.

The project objectives will be to: develop an ACT-informed tool to help nurses discuss weight management with people with SMI and to assess the acceptability and usability of the tool. The tool will be developed using mixed-methods and informed by MRC guidance for the development of complex interventions. The proposal is for a series of linked studies which will: derive a theoretical framework of factors that inhibit or facilitate weight management in people with SMI using realist review and qualitative methods; develop the tool through triangulating collected data and testing content validity with stakeholders; assess the usability and pilot test the tool using the think aloud method and a before and after study.

The studentship will be supervised by:

Professor Elizabeth Barley, who is a registered nurse, health psychologist and ACT therapist. She has published a number of studies concerning the physical health of people with serious mental illness and has experience of the methods proposed here. 

Dr Bridget Dibb, who is a registered Health Psychologist and Senior Lecturer in Health Psychology.  Her research area focuses on the health and well-being of people with chronic conditions, including overweight and obesity.  She also uses mixed methods in her research.

Dr Nicholas Stokes, who is a consultant clinical psychologist at West London NHS Trust.

This studentship is for a July 2021 or an October 2021 start.

The successful applicant will be based at the University of Surrey, with flexibility to work from home at times, but will need to be able to travel to St Bernard’s Hospital, Southall, West London in order to collect data.

Mental health-friendly health check resources for health and social care professionals.

Eligibility criteria

Applicants are expected to hold a minimum of an upper second-class honours degree (65 per cent or above) in nursing, psychology (or a related discipline) and a master’s degree in a relevant subject.

English language: IELTS 6.5 or above (or equivalent) with 6 in each individual category.

Applicants must be able to travel regularly to The Orchard Unit, West London NHS Trust, St Bernard’s Site, Uxbridge Road, Southall, UB1 3EU for data collection.

Only available for UK applicants.

IELTS requirements: IELTS of 6.5 overall and a minimum of 6.0 in each category, or equivalent

How to apply

Applicants must submit an online application via the Health Sciences PhD programme page

An MSc in nursing, psychology or related areas is required for this studentship. Please contact Professor Elizabeth Barley for more information or with informal enquiries and, when you are ready to apply, please send your CV and cover letter detailing why you would like to take up this studentship to Professor Elizabeth Barley.

Application deadline

Contact details

Elizabeth Barley
Telephone: +44 (0)1483 684635


Maternal, Child and Family Health Cluster.


Studentships at Surrey

See our full list