Positive Psychology & us - Trudi's blog

Trudi’s blog post.......

Positive Psychology and us. 

Pearl said in her last blog post that she was going to write a bit about positive psychology and how we have used it as part of our life change. We use positive psychology is all aspects of our day to day life.

Not the same as positive thinking

People often get positive psychology confused with positive thinking but it’s not the same. Thinking optimistically can be helpful sometimes but constantly doing so may lead to ignoring potential difficulties. Bouncing along like some kind of overly happy Tigger can lead to everything crashing down when a negative becomes impossible to ignore.  Reham El Taher provides a good explanation of the difference in her website https://positivepsychologyprogram.com/positive-thinking/

Psychology is a science.

 Psychology is the science of behaviour and how the mind works. As a science it applies the principles of examining, researching and testing to thought and action to try and establish cause and effect, to document experience and to predict.

A different focus

Psychology has historically focused on those things that cause problems and an examination of the behaviour and thoughts that link with negative or problematic outcomes. There has been a lack of emphasis on what makes for a good life, a happy life, those things that work out ‘well’; adaptive rather than maladaptive behaviour and processes.

Positive psychology and brain injury

 When you, or someone you love, experiences a life changing situation it can be devastating. Beyond the direct physical or psychological impact  there are also knock on effects –in relation to practical aspects such as finances,  on  relationships, social life, sense of self, confidence and more. Life choices may be radically altered – Plan A may go out of the window and, let’s be honest, many of us don’t have a well thought out plan B. It can be hard to imagine how the future might pan out.

Brain injury isn’t something anyone would wish for.  Even people who have managed to find real positives in their post brain injury life would probably agree that that would have preferred not to have experienced it. No one ever woken up thinking “Wow , wish I had a brain injury, that would enable me to......etc”  Now , as I’ve said, we are not advocates of blindly looking for the good in everything whilst not acknowledging problems but we are interested in how people with a brain injury come to terms with the experience ,  how they cope and experience life positively? Do things improve? Is it possible to lead a happy and fulfilled life with a brain injury?

Hope and realism

 One of the things we wanted as a family when Pearl was seriously ill in hospital was some kind of hope.  We are realists and we weren’t looking for ‘cure’ stories . That is a dangerous route – there’s a lot of ridiculousness out there, snake oil peddlers that take advantage of the desperate. We wanted real stories of adaptation, resilience and progress – something we could cling to as a beacon for the future. It was really difficult to find any. There was lots of research about the difficulties of living with the effects of brain injury but very little on how people coped successfully.  It took some digging to find publications centred on positive changes. It was also difficult to find studies that were conducted over the long term rather than just the acute  post head injury period but they are out there.

The following was taken from Brown et al (2011) A Survey of Very-Long-Term Outcomes after Traumatic Brain Injury among Members of a Population-Based Incident Cohort (Brown A.,W., et al J Neurotrauma. 2011 Feb; 28(2): 167–176 It cites the majority of studies on long term outcomes to the date of publication. It is worth noting that the studies of brain injury have all been round traumatic brain injury rather than acquired brain injury (which is what Pearl experienced) but there are, no doubt, common elements.

“Even for the most severe TBI, there is evidence showing substantial positive changes many years after injury. In a study that included 40 permanently impaired individuals followed 15 years after injury, half of the sample who could not be left alone 2 years or more after injury eventually became independent (Thomsen, 1984). Other investigators have reported small samples of individuals interviewed 10 years after severe injury, and showed that recovery continues and adaptability improves throughout this period (Sbordone et al., 1995), and that despite poor functional outcome, satisfaction with life can be relatively good, with 73% of one sample reporting rather high satisfaction with life in general (Koskinen, 1998).”

                          (Brown et al 2011, page1 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3064530/

These studies show that improvement and adaptation are possible even over long time periods. This wasn’t something we realised when Pearl was first unwell. We heard over and over how improvement tends to be over the first 3-5 years. The idea that improvements would continue wasn’t something we were even aware of. On a personal level we have evidence of this. Recently I met a lovely guy at an open mic event. He had clearly experienced something. I wondered if it was a stroke –  it wasn’t,  it was a traumatic brain injury, 15 years earlier. He told me that just a few short years ago he was still in a wheelchair, now he walks with a stick. He was in residential care, now he has his own place with PA support. He couldn’t read for the first 5 years, now he reads all the time. He is doing well.

What if Pearl hadn’t made improvements as she has? We are in many respects lucky, Pearl’s progress has been phenomenal. Not everyone has a similar experience, we know that and we cannot speak for people who have more devastating outcomes. There is certainly a need for more research around how people attain resilience (whether that is themselves or their loved ones). If we do not look at ‘what works’ we are left with a catalogue of the issues without knowing how these may be best addressed.

Anyway, enough of me. In the next post Pearl will be giving her top tips for living with a brain injury.



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