Psychology, Research in the School

Can we learn more about physical pain? A computerised psychometric to collect data about adolescent chronic pain

Dr Rhiannon Edwards is a Staff Tutor in the School. In a recent article, she and colleagues from the University of Bath and the Bath Centre for Pain Services published a new measure which will hopefully be used in pain management clinics as a tool help understand more about the experiences of living with pain. Here, Rhiannon describes the research and answers some questions about her role in it, and about careers in psychology.

Everyone knows what physical pain is; we have all experienced it at some point in our lives. We all describe it in a slightly different way and it’s difficult to define, but we acknowledge that we know what it is. However, we still have a lot to learn about physical pain, despite it being present in so many people’s lives; for example, up to 44% of adolescents report chronic pain. This can leave the adolescent with impaired physical, psychological, social and developmental functioning.

We know that self-reporting data from adolescents can help us to understand more about the day-to-day impact of living with pain, and these self-reports can have a big impact on diagnoses and treatment evaluation. The Bath Adolescent Pain Questionnaire (BAPQ) is a robust measure used in pain clinics to assess the functioning of the adolescent, and asks questions based on their physical, psychological, family, social and developmental functioning.

The BAPQ has been a vital tool in clinics across the world, but there was a need for a computerised version. There are many advantages to making things accessible in the digital age including technological appeal and giving the adolescence independence (they have may not have much of due to their pain). The computerised version of the BAPQ was preferred to the paper-version, and had high levels of patient acceptability. 

Rhiannon and her collaborators are pleased with the positive impact this will have on adolescents and their treatment, and hopefully soon we will understand more about adolescent chronic pain. Rhiannon answered some questions about the research:

What role did you have in the research that produced this paper?

I used to work as a research assistant and the Bath Centre for Pain Services, which gave me so many opportunities to learn more about physical pain, and often how debilitating it can be for adolescents. As a researcher, my main role was to recruit patients, complete data collection, and analyse the findings – but no two days were the same! Working in a hospital as part of a multidisciplinary team is something I recommend to anyone who’s not sure on their next steps in psychology. 

What will be the main outcome of the paper? 

We’re hoping the BAPQ-C will be used around the world to help adolescents living with chronic pain be able to self-report their functioning using technology they’re more used to and in an accessible way. We’re hoping the increase in speed, ease and accuracy of completion will make the BAPQ-C an ideal tool for busy clinical and research environments. 

How easy is it to collect data in an NHS setting? 

As with all psychological research, there are lots of ethical considerations made. If you intend to recruit patients, you need approval from the NHS. This is a long process, and there are many different forms to be completed. However, collecting data from the patients and seeing the ‘real-world’ impact of your work makes it all completely worth it! 

You say that you worked in a multidisciplinary team. What does this mean? 

As a psychologist, we often work with others and as part of a much bigger team, such as a team of academics or researchers. However, when I worked at Bath, we were a combination of researchers, clinicians, clinical psychologists, physiotherapists and nutritionists within an NHS setting. Being part of this kind of multidisciplinary team allows you to see how an adolescent’s treatment comes to together to improve their wellbeing, which I found to be highly rewarding! 

Is it possible to work in a hospital without being a clinical psychologist?

A lot of undergraduate students don’t realise that within psychology there are many different potential avenues you can pursue at postgraduate level, including in applied areas. A clinical psychologist works with patients, typically in a hospital setting, but health psychologists and counselling psychologists also work with patients and clients. If you’re considering psychology as a career, remain open-minded about the opportunities that lie ahead! The British Psychological Society offer lots of information about applied areas of psychology. 

For the full paper please go to: https://bmcpediatr.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12887-019-1899-3

Jordan, A., Begen, F., Austin, Lisa., Edwards, R. T., & Connell, H. (2020). A usability and feasibility study of a computerised version of the Bath Adolescent Pain Questionnaire: the BAPQ-C. BMC Pediatrics, 20(6). 

You can read more about Rhiannon Edwards here http://www.open.ac.uk/people/re3783

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