Chronic Conditions and Mental Health

Dr Lis D. Hammond and Dr Stephanie Kılınç are researchers with a special interest in how to help people with chronic, long-term conditions come to terms with their loss of good health and to adjust to a life within the constraints of their condition.

Dr. Lis shares how her journey took this turn into research. November 2020.

Lis Hammond

While I was preparing for training as a psychologist I worked a few years in a brain injury rehabilitation service. One of my tasks was to facilitate client groups in discussions of adjustment. I was unsure about what ‘adjustment’ meant, so I asked my supervisor. I cannot remember the exact reply, but it was a bit vague and along the lines of adapting to life after a brain injury. “But how does that work?” I asked. I still didn’t get a satisfactory answer and after some time reading and asking around I finally realised that nobody knew the answer to that question. 

I am stubborn when there is something important I don’t understand, so I eventually did a research project, where I asked people with type 2 diabetes what is was like to get an illness that you have to live with for the rest of your life. The result of that project was the ‘Integrative Model of Adjustment to Chronic Conditions’, IMACC for short, which is a theoretical model describing the psychological process of change after acquiring a long-term condition. If we know how that works normally, then we can also find out where people are stuck, if they struggle to do it on their own. The model is therefore also a treatment that can be used by psychologists and psychotherapists, who help people adapt to a life that is never going to be the same anymore.

Stephanie Kılınç

If we cannot make life work for us, we may end up with mental health problems. The way forward is change, and IMACC provides a systematic way to help people change by looking wider than their thoughts and emotions and examining how they function in life and what might get in the way of functioning as well as possible. Life is a mix of who we are, how we feel, and what we do – it is impossible to separate these things and only try to change one area. 

After completing my first research project I have since worked in chronic pain and I have been a Senior Lecturer, teaching and training new psychologists. I am now solely focused on furthering my research into what is called psychosocial adjustment and rehabilitation. I work with my dear colleague, Stephanie Kılınç from Teesside University, to expand the knowledge and understanding in this area. Her work complements mine as she is working on developing a creative reflection tool for self-management of long-term conditions.

Together with other colleagues we have established the world’s first international network for research into psychosocial rehabilitation in long-term conditions (INRePALC). It was launched in April 2020 and we already have members from more than 25 countries. It is our aim to network with anyone with an interest in psychosocial adjustment to long-term conditions. It is a major problem worldwide and we need both researchers, clinicians and people with lived experience to develop tools that work for everyone and on all levels. 

 Dr Hammond and Dr Kılınç are also co-founders of the International Network of Research into Psychosocial Adjustment to Long-term Conditions (INRePALC), a forum that is open to anyone with an interest in adjustment to life with a chronic, long-term condition. The network aims to advance the knowledge and understanding of psychosocial adjustment. Access to membership is via LinkedIn:https://www.linkedin.com/groups/8918380/

Dr Hammond has developed an innovative Model of Adjustment to Chronic Conditions (IMACC), which provides a theoretical understanding of the adjustment process. The model can be used by health professionals as a way of helping people in rehabilitation settings with the wider issues of getting their life back together after e.g. injury or serious illness. More information can be found here: https://imacc-reps.com/eng/

Dr Kılınç has developed the MyLifeTool, a reflective and creative self-management tool for people with any kind of chronic, long-term condition. The tool is FREE, it can be used individually and contains information about how to use it. It can also be used by healthcare professionals as a group intervention. The tool can be found here: https://www.mylifetool.co.uk/. A practitioner handbook has been developed and it will be launched at an online event on 2nd of December 2020.

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