Dr. Waldron-Perrine, ’10, wins grant to study positive psychology in spinal cord injuries

February 08, 2016

A Wayne State University School of Medicine clinical professor has secured a two-year grant from the Psychosocial Research Grants Program of the Craig Nielson Foundation to develop a better understanding of the role positive psychology can play in those with spinal cord injuries.

Brigid Waldron-Perrine, Ph.D. ’10, ABPP-ABCN, assistant professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation for WSU and a rehabilitation neuropsychologist for the Detroit Medical Center’s Rehabilitation Institute of Michigan, will use the nearly $300,000 grant for her study, “Positive psychological traits and psychological flexibility in a model of SCI rehabilitation and adjustment.”

The overarching goal of the proposed collaborative study is to ultimately improve the quality of life for those living with spinal cord injury, or SCI, via better understanding of the principles of positive psychology, for example by focusing on positive approaches to coping with the condition rather than on symptoms or problems in coping.

“Our hope is that by better understanding the impact of positive attributes and coping approaches in spinal cord injury we will uncover the mechanisms by which individuals with SCI cope well with their barriers, with an ultimate goal of establishing innovative rehabilitation programs and standards for delivery of psychological care that are supportive of positive coping,” Dr. Waldron-Perrine said. “Despite the promise of positive psychology and acceptance-based approaches to treat distress, a lack of scientific attention and methodological limitations has restricted our understanding of these approaches in SCI.”

Many people with spinal cord injury thrive in spite of the physical changes, but little research has investigated what attributes and outlooks might account for that rehabilitation success. Dr. Waldron-Perrine said her study seeks to better understand the relationship between positive psychological characteristics -- such as resiliency, curiosity and spirituality -- and individuals’ functioning on many levels after spinal cord injury.

The study also aims to establish how a relatively new concept in psychology -- psychological flexibility, which is defined as the ability to tolerate negative thoughts and feelings in the context of engaging in valued activities -- is related to both positive characteristics and health and well-being.

Dr. Waldron-Perrine anticipates that the study will assist in a change in thinking in SCI psychological rehabilitation from deficits to attributes, and that the “facilitation of underlying positive characteristics in coping with SCI will ultimately improve participation and well-being” in that population.

Robin Hanks, Ph.D., ABPP-ABCN, professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation for the Wayne State University School of Medicine and chief of Rehabilitation Psychology and Neuropsychology for RIM, and Anna Kratz, Ph.D., assistant professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation for the University of Michigan, will collaborate in the multi-site investigation.

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