Dr Gwenda Simons MA, PHD

Image of Dr Gwenda Simons

Institute of Inflammation and Ageing
Research Fellow

Contact details

Address
Rheumatology Research Group
Institute of Inflammation and Ageing (IIA)
College of Medical and Dental Sciences
University of Birmingham
Queen Elizabeth Hospital
Birmingham, B15 2WB

Dr Gwenda Simons joined the University of Birmingham in 2012 and is a researcher at the College of Medical and Dental Sciences. She is part of the Rheumatology Research Group and currently works on a project looking perspectives of individuals in different pre-Rheumatoid arthritis phases on issues such as risk perception, predictive testing and preventative medicine (see also http://www.team-arthritis.eu/).

Qualifications

  • May 2003: PhD in Psychology, University of Portsmouth, UK
  • March 2002: PGCert Research methods, University of Portsmouth, UK
  • May 1998: MA in Social Psychology, University of Amsterdam (UvA), NL

Biography

Originally from the Netherlands, Dr Gwenda Simons has been living and working in the UK since January 2000. She qualified with a MA in Social Psychology from the University of Amsterdam (the Netherlands) in 1998. Following her master studies, Gwenda completed a year of independent research at the University of Würzburg, Germany with the help of a scholarship from the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). She subsequently studied for her PhD in psychology at the University of Portsmouth, UK. After completing her PhD in 2003, she continued working at the University of Portsmouth on a pan-European project which saw the development of a patient education programme for people with Parkinson’s disease and their carers. This was followed by a period of more experimental work at the University of Oxford, exploring various aspects of interpersonal emotion and emotion regulation. Gwenda’s move to the University of Birmingham in 2012 meant a return to more applied social psychology and she currently works within the area of behavioural medicine. She is involved in research looking at the perceptions of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and decisions to seek help in the general public as well as research looking at perceptions of risk and predictive testing in those individual who are considered to be at risk of developing RA The latter research is part of a big European project (http://www.team-arthritis.eu/).

Gwenda is further one of the academic coordinators of the Birmingham Rheumatology Research Patient Partnership (R2P2). Patient research partners support a wide range of research projects conducted within the Rheumatology Research Group  (http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/r2p2).

Research

Many of Gwenda’s current research interests centre around illness perceptions, attitudes towards illness, perceptions of risk and preventative medicine, help seeking for symptoms of disease and health interventions (including health campaigns and educational programmes).

Perceptions about predictive testing in those at risk of developing Rheumatoid arthritis (EUROTEAM)
The EuroTEAM (Towards Early diagnosis and biomarker validation in Arthritis Management) project (http://www.team-arthritis.eu/) has been funded by the European Union (FP7 Health Programme) for 4 years and started in November 2012. Through EuroTEAM, approaches will be developed to predict the onset of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) in people who do not yet have the disease. Ultimately, this will help in the development of treatments to prevent people from getting RA in the first place. The role of Gwenda and other psychologists in the team is to investigate the perceptions of those at risk of developing RA such as people with arthralgia and first degree relatives of people who have RA. In particular we investigate their perceptions of risk of developing the disease and their perceptions of predictive testing for RA (tests currently available and to be developed in the future).

Perceptions of Rheumatoid Arthritis and decisions to seek help in the general public
Gwenda is currently working on several publications based on the outcomes of this research project which was supported by the Dunhill medical trust. This project explored the public knowledge and perceptions of Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA). It further investigated how people without a diagnosis of RA might react to experiencing the initial symptoms of RA. Research with RA patients has shown that they often delayed for an extended period of time before seeking help for their initial symptoms. This long patient delay is problematic as treatment for RA is ideally started within the first 3 months of symptom onset. The current project (acronym RAPID: Rheumatoid Arthritis the Public InformeD) investigated people without a diagnosis of RA. Besides exploring the general public’s knowledge and perceptions of RA, the project aimed to explore the potential barriers and drivers to help seeking in members of the general public. In addition, the research looked at the role of health literacy. The project used multiple approaches including qualitative interviews, vignettes and a cross-sectional postal survey. The outcomes of this have already informed the development of public health interventions to promote early help seeking behaviour with symptoms of RA. This is collaborative research involving both researchers from the University of Birmingham (Professor Karim Raza, Dr. Rebecca Stack & Kanta Kumar) and the University of Keele (Professor Christian Mallen). More information on the project can be found here: http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/ra-rapid.

Patient education in Parkinson’s disease
Another health intervention project Gwenda has been involved in saw the development and evaluation of a patient programme for people with Parkinson’s disease and their carers. This pan-European project (EduPark) was carried out with the financial support from the EU. The education programme focuses on psycho-social support for patients and carers and deals with issues such as depression, anxiety, the burden of care and social support. It consists of 8 sessions, each of which deals with a particular issue. The ultimate aim of the programme is to empower people with Parkinson and their carers by teaching them the tools to deal with some of the symptoms and problems associated with Parkinson’s disease and to seek out information from healthcare specialists and other relevant sources (for example regarding carers’ benefits). The wellbeing of both the patient and their carer is central to this programme and some of the sessions were specifically developed with the carers in mind. A manual has been published in each of the contributing countries for people wishing to deliver the education programme. Gwenda continues to be involved in this project, at present mainly in an advisory role for potential users of the programme and researchers who are looking to adapt the education programme for their own purposes.

Other research interests
Gwenda’s other research interests include interpersonal emotions, inter and intra-personal emotion regulation and nonverbal behaviour, in particular facial expressions.

Whilst at the University of Oxford she has conducted a series of studies looking at these processes in close (romantic) relationships together with Dr Brian Parkinson (PI). In particular, she has studied the habitual patterns of emotion regulation in romantic and other close relationships using a variety of techniques, including video cued recall, interviews and diaries. A related line of research she has pursued is how our own and other people’s emotions influence our appraisal of ambiguous situations, for example when making decisions. She has further researched the regulation of crying and emotional eating as a regulating behaviour.

Other activities

  • Academic coordinator for the Birmingham Rheumatology Research Patient Partnership (R2P2). (http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/r2p2)
  • Ad hoc Reviewer of grant applications for the Medical Research Council; the Economic and Social Research Council; Parkinson’s UK research department.
  • Ad hoc reviewer of book proposals for Wiley publishers.
  • Ad hoc peer reviewer for the Journal of Psychosocial Oncology, Patient Preference and Adherence, the European Journal of Social Psychology; the Journal of Nonverbal Behavior; Cognition and Emotion and the European Journal of Neurology.

Publications

Simons G, Mason A, Falahee M, Kumar K , Mallen CD, Raza K and Stack RJ (2016) Qualitative exploration of illness perceptions of Rheumatoid Arthritis in the General Public. Musculoskeletal Care [Epub ahead of print]

Parkinson B, Simons G and Niven K (2016) Sharing Concerns: Interpersonal Worry Regulation in Romantic Couples. Emotion [Epub ahead of print]

Falahee M, Simons G, Raza K and Stack RJ (2016) Healthcare professionals’ perceptions of risk in the context of genetic testing for the prediction of chronic disease: A qualitative metasynthesis. Journal of Risk Research [In press]

Bayliss K, Raza K, Simons G, Falahee M, Hansson M, Starling B and Stack R (2016) Perceptions of predictive testing for those at risk of developing a chronic inflammatory disease: a meta-synthesis of qualitative studies. Journal of Risk Research [In press]

Simons G, Mallen CD, Kumar K, Stack RJ and Raza K (2015) A Qualitative Investigation of the Barriers to Help-seeking Among Members of the Public Presented with Symptoms of New-onset Rheumatoid Arthritis. The Journal of Rheumatology 42(4):585-92

Stack R, Simons G, Kumar K, Mallen C and Raza K (2013) Patient delays in seeking help at the onset of rheumatoid arthritis: the problem, its causes and potential solutions. Aging Health 9(4):425-35

Simons G, Bruder M, van der Löwe I and Parkinson B (2013) Why try (not) to cry: Intra- and inter-personal motives for crying regulation. Frontiers in Psychology 3:597

Parkinson B and Simons G (2012) Worry spreads: Interpersonal transfer of problem-related anxiety. Cognition & Emotion 26(3):462-79