Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Power of Belief: Part I: What Self 'Belief' is

The Purpose of this Series:

"The Power of Belief", is my effort to inform/improve the belief readers have in their ability to cope with their pain, and to foster understanding for how that belief impacts their lives. When a chronic pain patient improves their belief in their capability, their outcomes as a patient are better than in patients who do not. They tend to be less disabled by their pain and tend to have less severe pain.

To put it simply, mastering your beliefs in your abilities will help you manage your pain. Physically and mentally.

All sorts of psychological states and characteristics have an impact on our physical bodies. Many, many books exist to describe them. Even more research to support the connection. For now, for this series, I'm hoping to teach you about one of these connections: belief in your abilities. What it is, why it's important, how to create a positive change, and to provide some coping mechanisms to help strengthen your belief.

It may appear a bit wordy, a bit lengthy, but it cannot be avoided. The connection between belief and pain involves a lot of information, and this is my attempt to simplify and communicate all that. This series is written for a general audience with research to support claims. However, if you feel frustrated with how it is written, I have good news. The following week, a simpler version of similar information will be posted, written for an audience that does not enjoy scientific reading. Just remember, a shorter/simpler version means that many statements will be unsupported and further explanations withheld. Less information, but easier information to digest. Each article will have its own pros and cons, so choose which ever you feel most comfortable with, or read both and be a super expert in the effects beliefs have on pain!


The Power of Belief: Part I: What Self 'Belief' is

In psychology and personality theory, the concept of self-efficacy is a critical characteristic of an individual’s development, self, and personality. It contributes to not only their perception of self, but also to how an individual interacts with the world and others. Their actions, reactions, and thoughts are all influenced by this important quality.

Self-Efficacy:

Describing self-efficacy can be a little tricky. While the definition may sound simple, trying to understand it and map it onto reality can make it a bit more complicated. Regardless, a definition is a good place to start. Self-efficacy is the belief in one’s ability to coordinate actions in order to complete tasks and meet goals (Bandura, 1977). Essentially, it is the belief that you can handle a situation. A measure of, “Can I do this?”


To help clarify the idea, it helps to look at people who possess strong self-efficacy and how they differ from those who do not. For example, for people with a strong sense of self-efficacy, challenges are problems/tasks to be mastered, whereas those with a weak sense of self-efficacy avoid challenges and regard them with fear. In strong sensed individuals, setbacks and failures in/from challenges are quickly recovered from, versus weak sensed individuals experience loss of confidence and are likely to further in the face of failure. A strong sense of self-efficacy makes a person more likely to fully commit to their tasks and activities, whereas a weak sense will lead to fear and withdrawal. A person with a weak sense of self-efficacy will be too focused on their own personal failings to fully immerse themselves in their activities (Bandura, 1982)

Remember, the examples above are at the severe ends of the spectrum of a strong versus weak sense of self-efficacy. Usually people will fall somewhere in the middle. For above, these are just patterns of behavior you would expect to see in people with particularly strong or particularly weak senses of self-efficacy. The contrasts are to help illustrate the idea, but, in real life, you might not see such clear differences (or maybe even a mix of some behaviors). Hopefully you can begin to understand what self-efficacy is though and how the belief in capabilities impacts a person's thoughts and actions.  

Such a pivotal personality trait is bound to spread into many different aspects of a person’s life. You can take the basic idea of self-efficacy in regards to life in general and looking at it from the angle of how people deal with challenges in general. If you were to put a person in any given random situation, how confident in themselves would they feel? What is their belief in their ability to handle life? You can also approach the concept from the perspective of individual, unique applications. For example, a student’s self-efficacy in academics would have significant meaning for their experience in school. You can also take this concept and apply it to dealing with chronic pain (and many researchers have).

Pain Self-Efficacy:

Pain self-efficacy is a measure of a person’s confidence to do tasks despite the pain they are in (Miles, 2011). This characteristic is obviously is going to be influenced by many different factors. How much pain the person is in, the support they have, the tools they have to manage the pain, their self-efficacy in general, their self-efficacy prior to the development of their chronic pain, etc... But that is why the concept is named as is—it is a measure of a person’s confidence in their ability to perform tasks despite the pain. Nothing more or less. This is important to keep in mind when learning about its impact.

In 1989, researcher M.K. Nicholas developed the Pain Self Efficacy Questionnaire (PSEQ) (Nicholas, 1989). A questionnaire is a tool that has been researched, tested, and validated to be a reasonable measure of a psychological characteristic. While we cannot directly observe thoughts/feelings of people, we can create measures to get an idea of them and somewhat reliably testing for them. For example, IQ tests are considered a well-tested measure of intelligence, but no IQ test can say exactly what someone’s intelligence is—but it gives a useful idea. And this Pain Self Efficacy Questionnaire is just that—a useful idea of what someone’s pain self-efficacy is.

Other, more recent pain self-efficacy measures exist, with varying reliability and accuracy. What is important to know is that in research focused on pain self-efficacy, some useful tool is used to gain a reliable idea of participants pain self-efficacy. Using such tools help to improve the quality of the study and results and give us, the readers, more to trust when making conclusions. 

The Point: 

Why are pain researchers so interested in self-efficacy and pain self-efficacy? Past and current research has supported that self-efficacy, particularly pain self-efficacy, is a useful predictor and contributing factor towards outcomes for people with chronic pain. Self-efficacy affects the outcomes for a patient, and knowing as much is useful in: (a) predicting how the patient will be affected by their self-efficacy and (b) providing a treatment point for improving a patient's pain management. Knowing the relationship between the two helps researchers and patients to better understand how to improve the livelihood for that patient.

Researchers used measures of pain intensity, pain self-efficacy, and other qualities related to chronic illness/pain, and found that pain self-efficacy had an impact on other problems that patients would face. Tomorrow, in Part II, we will go over some of that research and the meaning it has.

***To be continued in Power of Belief: Part II (to be posted 9/21/14)***

Editors Note: Recently I began working on an article that examines that relationship between a sense of self-efficacy and the effects of pain. I wanted to take tested and well researched resources and write them into a more user-friendly space. This five-part series is the outcome of that venture and I hope readers find them useful and layman-friendly. Each part will be submitted daily until all five are posted, when they will be combined into a single article. Full references will be posted at the end, to prevent repetition and confusion. I divided them on purpose though--I wanted readers to not feel bogged down with wordiness or too many diverging thoughts in a single post!

Please feel free to offer critiques/questions for this series. I think I do too much technical writing and I very much want this to be an accessible article for those who do not enjoy reading science journals. I also plan to follow up the series with an abridged version that just highlights key points (without the supporting research), and it would help me to know what sort of styles speak to those reading. Also, sneak preview, this is going to be included in the exercise plan project (as I am looking to tackle things from multiple sides, not just physical, to help improve outcomes). Thank you!

5 comments:

  1. No critiques quite yet, looking forward to the future parts. :)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Nice start. I don't know where you are in your research into the neurology of chronic pain, but suggest that you gain an understanding of pain perception, pain pathways, and pain regulation in the human nervous system (if you haven't already studied these areas) where you'll find a lot of support for your self-efficacy theories.

    Best wishes and looking forward to future installments.

    ReplyDelete
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  4. keep moving and foget your Problem , think about Poeple in Syria ...you will feel you are so lucky..here

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  5. It is great reading inspirational articles like this online. I may not agree with everything in here but it is nice to read from another person's perspective.

    ReplyDelete

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About The BedRiddenHead

I want to be happy. And this site is about that chance. How to strive to thrive in the body I've got and maybe turn my experiences into something worthwhile.

This site aims to help educate and reach out to people all over that struggle with pain or illness. To try and make something helpful. I work as a medical research writer, my background is in neuropsychology and biology, and I want to share what I learn in a way that is easy to understand. I am not a doctor. I'm definitely not your doctor. I am just some lady who wants to make someone's (anyone's) life a little bit better. Whether you have endometriosis, a chronic injury, a struggling friend, or just want to learn something new, I hope to make a place that has what you are looking for.

Thank you for stopping by, I wish you strength in your health, struggles, and happiness.