Musculoskeletal and mental health complaints are common in the general population and frequent reasons for healthcare utilization and work absence. Illness perceptions, coping expectancies, rumination and self-stigma are important factors in the management of these health complaints and factors closely linked to health literacy (HL). The aims of the study were to identify helpful elements in a brief intervention (BI) targeting HL regarding common musculoskeletal and mental health complaints and to identify patient perceptions of how the intervention was helpful and whether it affected their subsequent coping. Three focus group interviews with 14 patients were conducted. Systematic text condensation was used for the analysis, supported by the health literacy skill (HLS) framework to sharpen the focus on intervention elements related to the acquisition and utilization of HLSs. Results revealed the importance of receiving comprehensible health information and guidance, the use of metaphors to create recognizable narratives and the use of practical examples and exercises. Normalizing the experienced health complaints, together with a safe and accommodating clinical environment, facilitated the change process. The BI initiated processes that contributed to acceptance, resilience and empowerment, aiding work–life balance and return to work. The study presents authentic narratives of value for future focus in BI.

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted reuse, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.