Since the very beginning of my psychology studies, I always loved to look at the bright side of everything. I have the same approach when it comes to disability-related research – instead of emphasizing challenges and problems, I prefer to focus on individual strengths and opportunities.
Before starting my PhD studies in Psychology at Vytautas Magnus University, I needed to prepare a research project about something that would keep me busy for at least four years. The topic that kept me interested for a long time was the willingness to understand the process of adjustment to disability. Any disability, no matter – acquired or congenital – is a big change, which needs to be accepted not only by the persons themselves, but other people as well. There are plenty of factors that can affect individual’s adjustment to disability, including physical, economical, social and psychological factors. All of them are closely inter-related and can be either increasing or decreasing one’s adjustment to disability, depending on the specific situation.
However, the more I was reading about different theories of adjustment to disability, the more I found that the existing studies on this topic are limited in some ways. First, previous research has focused on only a few variables related to adjustment to disability. Even among people with the same disability, their condition and functional limitation can vary dramatically. Also, mostly the negative aspects of disability, such as perceived distress and increased risk of mental health issues, have been analyzed in previous studies. Many psychologists tend to explore what challenges people have to overcome before fully accepting their disability, instead of focusing on strengths, talents and resources, which every person possesses. I truly believe that even the most severe disability might bring many positive outcomes to a disabled person.
That is why in my research I decided to analyze the dynamic model of adjustment to disability created by T. Elliott and his colleagues (2002), and actually examine if this model works in practice. This model is strongly linked to the approach of positive psychology, where inner strengths and resources, such as self-efficacy, perceived social support and coping strategies play an important role when a person is learning how to live with their disability. I am trying to explore if these psychosocial resources are more important to successful adjustment compared to other factors, such as disability-related variables, demographic characteristics, or social and environmental factors.
As the research is still ongoing, the primary results have revealed that the disability-related factors, such as origin, duration, severity and visibility of disability, are indeed important when it comes to adjustment, but not as important as psychological resources. High self-efficacy, adequate social support from family and friends and adaptive coping strategies are significant in predicting successful adjustment to mobility disability.
High adjustment to disability does not necessarily mean the person is happy about the challenges they now experience, although it does allow the successful adaptation of new roles based upon realistic potentials and abilities. The person might benefit from interactions with others, and becomes comfortable with who they are. Strong psychological resources may help a person with disability to live a high-quality life regardless of their limitations.
This is especially important in the rehabilitation settings. As a researcher, I was a part of a 3-year-long research project funded by Research Council of Lithuania where I was providing motivational interviewing counseling sessions for people with chronic diseases, who were hospitalized at Abromiškės Rehabilitation Hospital. The aim of the project was to apply motivational interviewing, as a short-term counseling technique, to people with cardiovascular and chronic joint diseases in promoting their health behavior changes, enhancing self-efficacy and adjustment to disability. Unhealthy behavior, such as smoking, problem drinking, poor nutrition and low physical activity, may disimprove the well-being of people with chronic health diseases. Conversely, health promoting behavior helps individual to overcome health issues and improve the health outcomes. Motivational interviewing is one of the psychological interventions that could help people improve their health behavior despite their physical limitations. The results of the research revealed that motivational interviewing was effective in strengthening the motivation to make some health-related behaviour changes of patients with both chronic diseases. Rehabilitation, together with counseling, not only provides physical recovery and socialization, but also develops new roles and new self-definitions, so higher adjustment is associated with better success of rehabilitation. The results from the research project revealed that improved psychological resources could positively impact the process of adjustment and rehabilitation.
The results of this project are presented in the monograph called “Motivational interviewing efficacy in a group of patients with chronic diseases” which was written by two my colleagues L. Šinkariova and R. Petrolienė from Vytautas Magnus University and me, and it was published in July 2020.
During my early-research years, I am trying to emphasize that people with disabilities, like everyone, desire to achieve acceptance and feel completely included and participating in society. The independent living movement, improved media and social messages, observation and consideration of environmental barriers, the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and of the Declaration of Human Rights of Persons with Disabilities have all transpired to influence how a person is accepting his or her disability. Despite the visible progress, there is still much that needs to be done for ensuring equal rights and opportunities for everyone. I believe that positive psychology provides this unique perspective, which does not only encourage disabled people to fully accept their disabilities, but also educates the society that every disability can have positive outcomes not only to individuals themselves, but to all the members of society as well. By embracing the individual differences and strengths, we are able to shape friendlier, stronger and a more inclusive society where everyone is able to contribute in their own unique way.
You can find some of my publications at https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Laura_Alciauskaite
Laura Alčiauskaitė works for ENIL as a TRIPS Project Coordinator (TRIPS Project is funded by the European Commission through the Horizon 2020). In addition, Laura is Early-Stage Researcher and PhD student in Psychology at Vytautas Magnus University (Lithuania). She is also Youth researcher at Lithuanian Youth Researcher Committee and a has more than five years of experience as youth trainer and lecturer. This article is the seventh in a series of articles introducing members of the Independent Living Research Network, with the aim of promoting existing and upcoming research on Independent Living.