Living with chronic pain - a longitudinal study of the interrelations between acceptance, emotions, illness perceptions and health status
Psychological adjustment to chronic pain has been recently explored within three separate frameworks: a behaviour-focused account of chronic pain acceptance within the broader remit of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy; an emotion-focused approach with various research programs investigating the role of anger, fear, depression and also shame and positive emotions in chronic pain; and a cognitionfocused perspective more recently reframed in terms of illness perceptions as part of a wider model of response to health threats, the Self-Regulatory Model. Although these frameworks have broad areas of overlap, limited research has been directed at integrating acceptance, emotions and illness perceptions into a common, comprehensive account of psychological adjustment to chronic pain. Such an account would be beneficial both for providing a parsimonious approach that would guide further research and for developing pain management interventions that would take advantage of existing research from all three domains. The aim of the present thesis was to explore the possibility of integrating these separate areas by studying the relationships between the main concepts (acceptance, emotions, and illness perceptions) in the context of chronic pain. Based on a review of the relevant conceptual and methodological issues of each domain, a theoretical analysis of the similarities and differences between them was developed, with particular emphasis on the potential of existing models to support an integrative account. This analysis provided specific hypotheses regarding each domain and the interrelationships between them, which were investigated in a longitudinal study on a heterogeneous sample of 265 chronic pain patients using the services of the NHS Lothian Pain Clinic and several patient support organisations. Data were collected via postal and online questionnaires at 3 time points, at 41/2-month intervals (21% attrition rate). Validated questionnaires were used to measure the relevant constructs, with additional questions obtaining information regarding health status, medical history and demographics. The confirmatory analysis (employing a variety of statistical procedures, from correlation to multiple regression, factor analysis, cluster analysis and structural equation modeling) largely confirmed the expected relations within and between domains and was also informative regarding the most suitable data reduction methods. A detailed psychometric analysis of the questionnaires used offered a complementary view on the theoretical and methodological issues involved. An additional exploratory analysis focused on identifying the comparative characteristics of acceptance, emotions, and illness perceptions in predicting health status indicators, controlling for contextual factors such as medical history and demographics. Although no significant longitudinal changes were identified in most parameters (confirming the clinical observation of chronic pain as a stable condition), the longitudinal data allowed an analysis of the stability of the concepts and of the magnitude of their relationships in this patient sample. The analysis of intra- and interpersonal variation via hierarchical longitudinal modeling confirmed the stability of the data, highlighted the necessity of studying variation at both levels, and revealed interesting moderation effects, explained via the proposed concept of ‘discrimination ability’ and several alternative mechanisms. These results can be considered as first steps towards an integrative model of psychological adjustment to chronic pain. It is proposed that the behavioural, cognitive and emotional aspects need further conceptual clarification and these future efforts can be supported by the Cognitive-Affective Model of the Interruptive Function of Pain, within the wider framework of the Self-Regulatory Model.
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