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Neil Coulson

Associate Professor in Health Psychology, Faculty of Medicine & Health Sciences




Dr Neil Coulson is an Associate Professor of Health Psychology within the School of Medicine at the University of Nottingham. He is both a Chartered Psychologist (British Psychological Society) and Registered Health Psychologist (Health and Care Professions Council). He completed his MA (Hons) Psychology at the University of St. Andrews followed by the MSc Health Promotion & Health Education at the University of Edinburgh. He then undertook his PhD Health Psychology under the supervision of Professor J. Richard Eiser at the University of Exeter.

Professional Activities

He has held a number of senior positions within the British Psychological Society (e.g. Chair of the BPS Division of Health Psychology; Chair of the BPS Division of Health Psychology Training Committee) and has made a significant contribution to the development of health psychology training within the UK.

Dr Coulson is a member of the NIHR Research for Patient Benefit East Midlands Advisory Committee, a methodologist on Panel D of the NIHR Programme Grant for Applied Research and a member of the NIHR Doctoral Research Fellowship funding committee.

Within the University of Nottingham he has the following roles:

Member of the School of Medicine Doctoral Programmes Executive Committee

Member of the School of Medicine Doctoral Programmes Committee

Director of Training and member of the management group for the Centre for Doctoral Training in Rehabilitation and Healthcare Research

Member of the Faculty of Medicine & Health Sciences Ethics Committee

Teaching Summary

My main teaching is located on the MSc Health Psychology degree programme which is accredited by the British Psychological Society.

I convene and teach on two 20 credit modules:

C84HTM Understanding, Predicting and Changing Health Behaviour

C84CID Chronic Illness

I also do a session 'Online research methods' for C84IRM Introduction to Research Methods. In addition, I supervise between 5-10 Applied Research Project (60 credits) students per year

Research Summary

Dr Neil Coulson is an international expert in the role of online support communities and healthcare. His work has demonstrated the important role online communities play in empowering patients as… read more

Selected Publications

  • COULSON, N.S, SMEDLEY, R., BOSTOCK, S., KYLE, S.D., GOLLANCZ, R., LUIK, A.I., HAMES, P. and ESPIE, C., 2016. The pros and cons of getting engaged in an online social community embedded within digital Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for insomnia: Survey among users. Journal of Medical Internet Research. 18(4), e88
  • COULSON, N.S., 2015. Online research methods for psychologists Palgrave Macmillan.
  • SHOEBOTHAM, A. and COULSON, N.S., 2016. Therapeutic affordances of online support group use in women with endometriosis Journal of Medical Internet Research. 18(5), e109
  • COULSON, N.S., 2013. How do online patient support communities affect the experience of Inflammatory Bowel Disease? An online survey. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine Short Reports. 4(8), 1-8

Ferguson, M., Wharrad, H., Coulson, N., Maidment, D., Brassington, W. & Wales, T. The development and feasibility of m-health technologies to improve hearing aid use and benefits in first-time hearing aid users. National Institute of Health Research Research for Patient Benenfit, 2nd January 2017 to 31st Aug 2018, £148,956.

Mo PKH, Coulson N,S. Goggins W, Jiang CL, Kwan NNM, Mak WWS, Sillence E. The efficacy of using online narratives in changing HIV risk perceptions and behaviors among men who have sex with men in Hong Kong (14612615). General Research Fund, Hong Kong Research Grant Council, 1 May 2016 to 30 Apr 2018, HKD 811,168.

Morriss, R., Hollis, C., Coulson, N.S., Moran, P., Avery, A., Tata, L., Simons, L., Guo, B., James, M., Nixon, N. & Rowley, E. Randomised controlled trial of an established direct to public peer support and e-therapy programme (Big White Wall) versus information to aid self-management of depression and anxiety. Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research & Care. £249, 709.

Ferguson, M., Handscomb, L., Coulson, N.S., Brassington, W. & Downes, B. A survey of rehabilitation practices in UK audiology services. British Society of Audiology. £3100.

Blake, H., Coulson, N.S., Leighton, P., Wharrad, H., Batt, M.E. & Walsh, D. Feasibiity of SMS text messaging to promote physical activity in knee osteoarthritis. ARUK Pain Centre.

PEGASO: PErsonalised GuidAnce Services for lifestyle management and Obesity prevention in teenagers. 7th Framework Programme, EU Commission. €8,934,000. C0-applicant

Coulson, N.S. Exploring the experiences of individuals who access Meniere's disease online support communities. £6925

Coulson, N.S. Exploring the experience of living with Type 2 diabetes. £16,714. Boots Ltd.

Gavin, J., Rodham, K., Watts, L. & Coulson, N.S. Meeting the support needs of patients with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) through innovative use of wiki technology. NIHR Health Services Delivery & Research. £89,960.

Lamb, S. ACTIvATeS: ACTive Treatment for Idiopathic Adolescent Scoliosis - A feasibility study. NIHR Health Technology Assessement. £331, 717.

Coulson, N.S. Problem drinking and peer support in cyberspace. Alcohol Research Council. £4729.

Coulson, N.S. Social support in cyberspace: The role of online support communities for individuals living with Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Crohn's & Colitis UK. £34,191.

Buchanan, H., Coulson, N.S. & van Wjik. Psychological interventions to reduce postoperative morbidity in dental surgery in adults: a systematic review. British Academy, £7437.

Coulson, N.S. Exploring the impact of peer-to-peer online communities. University of Nottingham Staff Research Grant, £7000.

Current Research

Dr Neil Coulson is an international expert in the role of online support communities and healthcare. His work has demonstrated the important role online communities play in empowering patients as they attempt to cope with the challenges of long term conditions. In particular, he has has published a number of pioneering papers which have explored the provision of social support between community members (e.g. Coulson, Buchanan & Aubeeluck, 2008). Furthermore, his work has explored the mechanisms through which patients may benefit from participation in online communities and factors that may be associated with levels of satisfaction as well as a range of psychosocial outcomes.

At the heart of my research programme is the patient and family experience of illness and how the Internet can be used to adjust and cope with chronic illness. My work has adopted an empowerment framework through which it can explore how patients (and those affected by chronic illness) can self-manage and support each other through online patient communities. With a focus on social media and technology, my work responds to new opportunities for patient self-help and explores the potential for the enhancement of patient well-being and offers guidance to both patients and professionals about the implications for healthcare. In 2004 I recognised the importance of online peer support and became the first health psychologist to examine this through empirical study. Since then I have published in multiple national and international journals and have quickly been recognised as a leading international expert and pioneer in online health communication. In 2012 the Encyclopaedia of Cyber Behaviour published the following abstract that attests to my standing within the international research community:

"E-health (eHealth) is an emerging field of health communication encompassing medical informatics, public health, and business where health information and services are exchanged through electronic processes. The current leading researchers in e-health include: Dr. Gunther Eysenbach from University of Toronto on health information and decision-making; Dr. David Gustafson from University of Wisconsin, Madison on interactive support systems; The Pew Internet and American Life Project on chronicling e-health use; Dr. Neil Coulson from University of Nottingham on online support group communication, and Dr. Elizabeth Murray from University College London, who develops online treatments. This entry summarizes research on e-health behaviours: seeking health information online, the impact of patient to-patient communication on health, and receiving treatment online. Future directions for research one-health behaviours include exploring the disadvantages of online support groups, research on minority populations, development of online randomized controlled trial methodology, and longitudinal research examining e-health behaviours over time" DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-0315-8.ch055

Past Research

I have supervised a number of Doctoral (PhD) students to completion:

Phoenix Mo, An investigation of the empowering processes and outcomes of online support group participation for individuals living with HIV/AIDS, 2010.

Sumaira Malik, The role of online support communities for people experiencing infertility, 2010.

Kasia Campbell, The role of online support groups in empowering individuals affected by prostate cancer, 2012.

Oonagh Meade, Members' experiences of a neuromuscular disorder online support group, 2012.

Mia Jules, Online peer influence susceptibility and offline health risk behaviours among Barbadian and UK University students, 2015.

Richard Smedley, ​Online social support for Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, 2016.

Future Research

Dr Coulson continues to explore the application of the Internet to healthcare. He is currently involved in a large number of studies exploring the role of online support communities in helping patients adjust and cope with a range of health conditions. His newer research interests focus on specifically on social networking sites such as Facebook and how these may be similar or different to other forms of online support.

Any potential student interested in undertaking a PhD in this original and rapidly evolving area of health psychology should contact Dr Neil Coulson to discuss their initial ideas.

Current PhD students:

Karen Shepherd, Exploring the role of online support groups for adolescents with type 1 diabetes and their parents during the transition from paediatric to adult diabetes services.

Kate Greenwell, Evaluation of self-help programmes using person-led or eHealth approaches to tinnitus management.

Eithne Heffernan, Development and evaluation of a self-efficacy tool to assess self-management of hearing loss.

Grant Munro, Feasibility of mobile personality-informed organizers for wellbeing and recovery.

Ahmed Alhowimel, The impact of MRI results on patients with non-specific chronic low back pain: Psychosocial and functional aspects.

Lauren Winter, Online peer support for transgender individuals

School of Medicine

University of Nottingham
Medical School
Nottingham, NG7 2UH

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