Dr. David B. Adams – Psychological Blog

Psychology of Illness, Pain, Anxiety and Depression

Patient’s Goals and Expectancies

Injured Workers Who Believe They’ll Get Better, Do Better

The power of thoughts like “I think I can, I think I can …” may extend well beyond nursery rhymes. A study shows positive thinking can help injured workers recover from their injuries faster and get back to normal activities.

The study, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, tracked the progress of more than 1,500 injured workers after they filed a claim for their injury with the Ontario Workers’ Compensation Board. Researchers questioned the workers at regular intervals about their recovery expectations for a year after the claim.

They found factors such as the injured workers’ perceptions about progress to date, expected change in condition, and expected length of time to return to normal activities were major predictors of how soon and how well the workers recovered.

“Our study provides further evidence that patients’ expectations have a direct influence on their recovery,” says study author Donald Cole, MD, a senior scientist at the Institute for Work & Health in Toronto, in a news release. “We found that among the patients we followed, those who had a positive outlook returned to work sooner and reported feeling better than those who had more negative or uncertain expectations.”

For example, those who thought their recovery was going better than expected stopped receiving benefits 30% faster and likely went back to work quicker as a result. In addition, participants who said they were fully recovered or thought they would get better soon had a 25% faster recovery rate than those who thought they would never get or stay better.

Researchers say the study suggests that healthcare providers should listen to their patients’ expectations for recovery. Negative or uncertain expectations may indicate that the person has other personal, social, or work-related barriers that may make recovery more difficult.

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