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J Psychosom Res. 2010 Oct;69(4):353-61. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychores.2010.04.009. Epub 2010 Jun 9.

Cognitive and behavioural correlates of different domains of psychological adjustment in early-stage multiple sclerosis.

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Centre for the Clinical Applications of Health Psychology, University of Southampton, Southampton, UK.



This study investigated a cognitive-behavioural model of adjustment to multiple sclerosis (MS). It aimed to determine the contribution of cognitions and behaviours to the explanation of two distinct adjustment outcomes above and beyond measures of MS severity. Illness-related functional impairment was anticipated to be most strongly related to unhelpful thoughts and behaviours that were specific for MS and the experience of symptoms. Psychological distress was hypothesised to be most strongly related to more general unhelpful cognitions about the self and emotions.


Ninety-four people with MS completed questionnaires. Correlations and hierarchical multiple regressions determined the relative contribution of illness severity, cognitions, and behaviours to the prediction of psychological distress and functional impairment.


Illness-related functional impairment was related to disease severity, progressive versus relapsing-remitting disease, and unhelpful illness perceptions and cognitive and behavioural responses to symptoms. Illness severity factors accounted for a significant 23.7% of the variance in functional impairment (P<.001). Cognitive and behavioural variables explained a further 22.6% of the variance (P<.001), with behavioural responses to symptoms emerging as the strongest predictor. The correlates of distress were unhelpful beliefs about the self, unhelpful beliefs about emotions, acceptance, and unhelpful cognitive responses to symptoms and illness perceptions. Illness severity factors explained only 2.2% of the variance in distress (P>.05), while cognitive and behavioural variables accounted for 37.1% (P<.001). Unhelpful beliefs about the self were the strongest predictor.


Longitudinal and experimental research is required to investigate potential causal relationships. However, the cognitions and behaviours identified as important for adjustment are potentially modifiable and thus may be useful to address within interventions for adjustment to MS.

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