Long Term Conditions

Image of Neil Coulson

Neil Coulson

Professor of Health Psychology, Faculty of Medicine & Health Sciences




Neil Coulson is a 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.

Professor Coulson is past chair of the NIHR Research for Patient Benefit East Midlands Advisory Committee (2017 to 2019), a methodologist (behavioural science) on the NIHR Programme Grant for Applied Research panel (2014 to 2020) and a member of the NIHR Doctoral Research Fellowship funding committee (2015 to 2018).

Within the University of Nottingham he has held the following roles:

Member of the School of Medicine Doctoral Programmes Executive Committee (2014 to 2018).

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 (2014 to 2018).

School of Medicine Postgraduate Taught Programmes Quality Assurance Lead

Expertise Summary

Major Research Interests

The role of online peer support communities in the self-management of long-term conditions

Application of psychological theory to health and wellbeing

Online research methods, such as interviews, focus groups, surveys and analysis of online discourse.

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

Professor 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… read more

Selected Publications

Shah, S., Logan, P., Avery, T. & Coulson, N. Living healthy lives: Exploring effects of growing older with cerebral palsy and use of healthcare services across the life course, 2021-2023, NIHR Research for Patient Benefit, £148,282.

De Simoni, A., Griffiths, C., Mant, J., Coulson, N., Eldridge, S., Sheikh, A., Taylor, S., Ashcroft, R., Mihaylova, B., Day, B., Panzarasa, P., Relton, C. & Sastry, N. Effectiveness, and cost-effectiveness of A Digital social intervention for people with troublesome astHma prOmoted by primary care Clinicians (AD-HOC), 2021-2026, NIHR Programme Grant for Applied Research, £2,242,201.

Bown, M. Khunti, K., Armstrong, N., Chung, E., Coulson, N.S., Yao, G.L., Sararzis, A., Armer, M., van Keulen, M., Brittenden, J., Barber, S., Gray, L. Peripheral arterial disease, High blood pressure and Aneurysm Screening Trial (PHAST). An evaluation of the acceptability, effectiveness and cost effectiveness of screening for peripheral arterial disease and high blood pressure at the same time as abdominal aortic aneurysm, 2021-2029, NIHR Programme Grant for Applied Research, £2,374,980.

Ferguson, M., Wharrad, H., Coulson, N.S., Maidment, D., Brassington, W. & Wales, T. The development and feasibility of m-health technologies to improve hearing aid use and benefit in first-time hearing aid users, 2017-2019, NIHR Research for Patient Benefit, £148,956.

Morriss, R. et al. 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, 2016-2019, Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research & Care, £249,709.

Ferguson, M., Casey, A., Handscomb, L., Coulson, N., Brassington, W. & Downes, B. A survey of rehabilitation practices in UK Audiology services. 2015, British Society of Audiology, £3110.

Guarneri, R. et al. PEGASO: PErsonalised GuidAnce Services for lifestyle management and Obesity prevention in teenagers, 2013-2017, 7th Framework Commission, €8,934,000.

Coulson, N.S. Exploring the experiences of individuals who access Meniere's disease online support communities, 2013-2015, Meniere's Society, £6925.

Gavin, J., Rodham, K., Coulson, N. & Watts, L. Meeting the support needs of patients with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) through innovative use of wiki technology, 2012-2013, NIHR Health Services and Delivery Research, £89,960.

Lamb, S., Barker, K., Harding, I.,Heine, P., R. Lall, R., Slowther, A., Toyne, F., Williams, M., Williamson, E., Coulson. N.S. ACTIvATeS: ACTive Treatment for Idiopathic Adolescent Scoliosis - A feasibility study, 2012-2013, NIHR Health Technology Assessment, £331,717.

Coulson. Exploring the experience of living with Type 2 diabetes, 2012, Boots Ltd, £16,714.

Coulson, N.S. Problem drinking and peer support in cyberspace, 2012-2013, Alcohol Research Council, £4729.

Coulson, N.S. Social support in cyberspace: The role of online support communities for individuals living with Inflammatory Bowel Disease, 2009-2010, Crohn's & Colitis UK, £34,191.

Buchanan, H., Coulson, N. & van Wijk, A. Psychological interventions to reduce postoperative morbidity in dental surgery in adults: a systematic review, 2007-2008, British Academy, £7437.

Current Research

Professor 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

Research Degree Completion - Doctor of Philosophy

2023, University of Nottingham, "Facebook groups for traumatic birth: exploring women's experiences of digital peer support", PhD student Serena Cox, 2018 onwards. Awarded subject to minor revisions.

2022, University of Nottingham, "Exploring post-stroke fatigue in Saudi Arabia from the perspectives of healthcare practitioners and stroke survivors and the role of physiotherapy in the management of post-stroke fatigue: A mixed methods approach", PhD Student Wafa Alahmari.

2021, University of Southampton, PhD student, "Parents and carers' views and experiences of eczema in the online world: a mixed-methods exploration" Bethan Treadgold.

2021, University of Nottingham, PhD student, 'The role of online support groups for parents of adolescents with type 1 diabetes during the transition to adult diabetes services" Karen Shepherd.

2021, University of Nottingham, PhD student, "Investigating privacy perceptions, attitudes and behaviours of the inflammatory bowel disease online health communities" Kate O'Leary.

2019, University of Nottingham, PhD student. 'The impact of MRI results on chronic non-specific low back pain patients", Ahmed Alhowimel.

2017, University of Nottingham, PhD, "Development and evaluation of a self-efficacy tool to assess self-management of hearing loss", Eithne Heffernan.

2016, University of Nottingham, PhD, "Evaluation and optimisation of the tinnitus e-programme, an internet-based intervention for tinnitus self-management", Kate Greenwell.

2016, University of Nottingham, PhD, "Online social support for complex regional pain syndrome", Richard Smedley.

2015, University of the West Indies, PhD, "Online peer influence susceptibility and offline health risk behaviours among Barbadian and UK university students", Mia Jules.

2012, University of Nottingham, PhD, "Members' experiences of a neuromuscular disorder online support group", Oonagh Meade.

2012, University of Nottingham, PhD, 'The role of online support groups in empowering individuals affected by prostate cancer", Katarzyna Campbell.

2010, University of Nottingham, PhD, 'The role of online support communities for people experiencing infertility", Sumaira Malik.

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

Research Degree External Examination - Doctor of Philosophy

2023 University of Surrey, "The association between rumination and psychological and physical health outcomes in those diagnosed with cancer", Sarah Beck.

2022 University of South Wales, "Exploring the factors that affect LiNX powered wheelchair technology acceptance and use", Lucy Fishleigh.

2022 University of Sunderland, "The impact of gastrointestinal conditions on wellbeing: A psychosocial analysis", Elizabeth Dent.

2021, King's College London, "Exploring psychosocial processes and treatment development in women with Vulvodynia", Claudia Chisari.

2021, University of Sydney, "Digital health to improve australians experience of care: the case of melanoma post-treatment care", Audrey Rollin.

2020, King's College London, "Developing and feasibility testing a self-management intervention for chronic pain in Inflammatory Bowel Disease", Louise Sweeney.

2019, University of Manchester, "Investigating the effectiveness of I-PLAN to promote hearing aid use and benefit in adults with hearing loss", Noor Ismail.

2019, Sheffield Hallam University, "The role of an online community in supporting self-management of diabetes in Thailand", Nittaya Boonchum.

2018, Lancaster University, "Silently panicking: a thematic analysis of an online peer support forum for fathers of pre-school children", Sean Mackay.

2017, King's College London, "Screening for diabetes in dental settings", Kathryn Bould.

2017, University of Southampton, "A process evaluation of engagement and outcomes in internet supported physical rehabilitation for chronic dizziness", Rosie Essery.

2016, University College Cork, "Factitious disorder and its online variant Munchausen by Internet: Understanding motivation and its impact on online users for the purpose of developing a detection method", Aideen Lawlor.

2016, Deakin University Australia, "Discussion forum engagement in an online intervention for bipolar disorder", Emma Giddon.

2015, University of the West of Scotland, "The role of learning in the subjective experience of living with chronic illness", Gemma Stevens.

2015, University of Derby, "The experience of living with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome", Sophie Williams.

2015, University of Surrey, "The influence of eating behaviour traits on cognitive processing of obesity causes", Margaret Husted.

2015, University of Sheffield, "What predicts optimal telehealth usage amongst heart failure and COPD patients?", Sarah Gorst.

2014, University of Sheffield, "Online support groups for head and neck cancer", Eamer Al-Gtewi.

2014, University of Bath, "Factors influencing screening and treatment of chlamydia on people aged 25 years and over", Kelly Clifford.

2014, University College London, "Online support groups for depression and anxiety: Outcome and process", Jeremy Dean.

2012, University of Bedfordshire, "Who uses NHS Direct? Examining the factors that impact on the uptake of telephone-based healthcare", Erica Cook.

2011, University of West London, "Supporting student wellbeing in education settings: The development and evaluation of a research programme", Pauline Foxe.

2011, University of Leeds, "Measuring, monitoring and modifying students' mental health", Bridgette Bewick.

2008, University of the West of England, "An exploration of online peer support for young people with chronic skin conditions", Fiona Fox.

2007, University of Teeside, "Bio-psychosocial aspects of idiopathic scoliosis", Darren Flynn.

2006, University of Sheffield, "The design, implementation and evaluation of a novel education programme for children and adolescents with Type 1 diabetes mellitus", Helen Waller.

Research Degree External Examinations - Master of Philosophy

2016, University College London, "Online research: An exploration of guidance, policies and regulations governing Internet-mediated research with young people with cancer", Johanna Kemp.

Professional Doctorates (Health or Clinical) - Thesis External Examiner

2023, University of Leicester, "The psychological value of nature: Understanding the benefits of nature interaction in different populations", Hannah Harrison.

2017, University of the West of England, "Women's experiences of undiagnosed breech birth and effects on future childbirth decisions and expectations", Katie Lightfoot.

2016, City University, "Health psychology in the digital era", Sumira Riaz.

2016, City University, "The experiences of satisfaction encountered by both male and female caregivers whilst caring for a loved one with dementia at home", Farah Khokhar-Cottrell.

2015, City University, "Social support during pregnancy with gestational diabetes mellitus: exploring post-natal women's experiences", Kalsoon Akhter.

2015, City University, "Illness perception of type 2 diabetic patients in Malaysia", Jana Kanapathy.

2012, University of the West of England, "Psychological practitioners' conceptualizations of the process of change in clients with chronic health conditions: a qualitative study", Paul Miller.

2007, University of Leicester, "An exploration of an Internet discussion forum for autism spectrum disorders in relation to self-help/mutual aid groups and processes", Jennifer Jackson.

2007, University of Leicester, "Young people with Type 1 diabetes: School environment influence on self-care", Suzie Lewis.

Future Research

Professor 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 Professor Neil Coulson to discuss their initial ideas.

Long Term Conditions Research Group

School of Medicine
Division of Rehabilitation and Ageing
telephone: +44 (0)115 823 0226