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Foster Positive Emotions to Help Patients Cope

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Foster Positive Emotions to Help Patients Cope

Page 43

mind & body

Foster Positive Emotions to Help Patients Cope

Mind and Body Editor's note: Look for an additional "Mind and Body" column at www.physical-therapy.advanceweb.com

Doesn't it seem that the people with the best attitude and disposition progress much better than those who are consumed with negativity and lack of hope regarding their situation?

Even though it may not be true with every case, I estimate that it is 80 percent to 90 percent accurate. But why does this happen, and what is it about these people that allows them to have a positive attitude in the face of an otherwise stressful situation?

The answer lies in their ability to experience positive emotions, effectively cope through the positive reappraisal process, and the subsequent meaning the person derives from that appraisal. In short, is the patient putting a positive light on the situation and perceiving the rehab process as a challenge rather than as a threat? If so, this will promote a rehab situation that will allow the patient to perceive this stressful situation as meaningful, help experience positive emotions and most importantly, gradually improve overall coping skills. Over the next three monthly columns, I will be discussing the coping skills that promote positive affect in your patients as well as how to encourage their use in your clinic.

When a patient enters our clinic, it is pretty evident early on in the evaluation how that person is dealing with the injury and the situation. The person may be irritated at the doctor for something he did or didn't do, he may be angry at his employer for "forcing" him to work light duty, or he may be irritated that he can't do what he once thought was easy (e.g., walking). These are all legitimate concerns and when we, as therapists, are presented with these issues, we need to help the person cope and answer any and all questions he may have.

From our perspective, we should be asking ourselves what we can do as the patient's professional helper (a term that implies helping the person in all matters related to the rehab setting) to improve coping skills and increase the likelihood that he will progress as desired. This is relatively easy with a person who already has a positive attitude and wants to improve and return to regular life. On the other hand, it is a distinct challenge when the person has a negative attitude and talks with hatred about you, the doctor and life itself (we have all cared for these people!). These are the cases that test our professional fortitude.

When working with pleasant and not so pleasant people, we need to help them improve their coping skills to the point where they are experiencing positive emotions about their injury and the rehab process and putting forth positive, goal-directed effort. This kind of coping can be encouraged with our help through an understanding of what positive affect is and how we can promote it in our setting. The power of positive affect cannot be short-changed. Positive emotions and affect do many things for our psychological and physical well-being. For example, positive emotions broaden our attentional focus and assist us in building more social, psychological and physical resources, such as the rehab setting, to use in times of stress. In addition, positive emotions can also act as a physiological buffer against stress. Blood pressure readings are usually lower in people who have positive affect vs. those with negative attitudes. Finally, positive emotions can reduce and retard the chances of the chronically injured or disabled person from developing clinical depression and other psychological disorders. As you can see, the power of the positive affect can go a long way to promoting a healthy and happy person as they progress through their rehabilitation and return to their regular life.

In the next column, I will discuss the positive reappraisal process and how to promote it in the clinic.

Cory Niedfeldt is a doctoral degree candidate in sport psychology at UNC-Greensboro where he is involved in psychology of injury and social psychology research. He is a physical therapist for CareSouth Homecare and co-owner of the Golfers' Developmental Group. He can be reached at gomarquette1@prodigy.net




     

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