We are what we think … and according to the results of a recent study conducted by Wesley P. Gilliam of Rosalind Franklin University in Illinois, people who publicly state that they are coping positively with chronic pain tend to do just that. The strategic self-presentations (SSP) theory suggests that when people publicly declare specific things about themselves using positive affirmations, they experience a cognitive shift that transforms behaviors. This theory has been demonstrated in prior research, but until now had not been tested in comparison to private declarations.
To test the SSP theory further, Gilliam enlisted 89 participants with a history of chronic pain and provided them with scripts that cited declarations of negative coping or positive coping. The participants were then further segregated and selected to publicly declare or privately disclose their appraisals. Gilliam assessed the levels of depression, interference, positive coping, and self-efficacy of the participants before and after the experiment. He found that the participants who publicly declared positive coping strategies had significantly lower levels of negative outcomes related to all four aspects examined.
“Our findings suggest that simple manipulations drawing on social-cognitive theory may contribute to substantial improvements in outcome among patients suffering with chronic pain conditions,” Gilliam said. Because the quality of pain management treatment is difficult to assess and often includes medication that can have addictive properties, cognitive appraisals can offer a viable and less troublesome approach. Gilliam believes that clients with chronic pain could be provided with coping dialogue and publicly disclose their scripts in group sessions to receive benefits similar to the ones attained in the study. Additionally, the cost of implementing such a technique would be cost effective and devoid of any harmful side effects. In sum, the results of the study provide evidence of a novel perspective on effective and affordable pain management that should be further explored.
Gilliam, W. P., Burns, J. W., Gagnon, C., Stanos, S., Matsuura, J., Beckman, N. (2012). Strategic self-presentation may enhance effects of interdisciplinary chronic pain treatment. Health Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0029205
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