The psychology of hope and how it relates to arm and hand recovery

December 4, 2018

Charles Snyder is a specialist in hope psychology and distinguishes hope from optimism. He says that what separates the two is that hope is accompanied by a goal and a plan to achieve that goal. And it is this notion that researchers chose to explore further in how it relates to stroke patients and their arm and hand rehabilitation.

The typical rehabilitation scenario

Rehabilitation after a stroke focuses on getting patients stable enough to be able to go home. That’s why most programs emphasize walking. However, one of the largest problems after stroke tends to go undertreated. Many patients report that even though they experience arm and hand weakness, little is done in rehabilitation to strengthen them. In fact, when they return home, weeks or months after the stroke, patients still report difficulties.

Not only is this frustrating, but it is also deflating. Many patients start to feel like there is no chance for improvement. And since the message from many therapists and physicians still tends to be that not much more progress can be expected after 6 months, patients lose hope. This negative message influences the way patients view their chances of getting better. Luckily, new research shows us that this is an outdated message and offers evidence that improvements can be made at any stage after a stroke.

Positive mindset sets the stage

When patients only hear negative messages, they start to believe them. However, recovery outcomes are very much dependent on the patients’ attitudes. When patients hear supportive words and are encouraged, they start to believe that there is a hope to recover. So, how do we make sure that patients are hearing the right things and getting the support to continue to make improvements? That’s what researchers wanted to find out.

Learning how to encourage hope

Research already shows that recovery is possible at any time after a stroke. So this team of researchers from England wanted to find out how they could get patients to embrace this finding and believe that they can get better. Through patient interviews, the researchers learned what patients need to stay on track and to feel hopeful about their own possibilities.

The first thing patients reported is that they need a plan. Specifically, they want to get professional advice that they can follow. The second thing patients expressed is that they needed to notice improvements. If they were investing so much time in rehabilitation, they wanted to be able to see progress. This keeps them motivated. When something is hard and frustrating, being able to see how far they’ve come already, gives purpose to the plan and helps keep them going. And finally, deliberately deciding to have a positive mindset. Patients chose to be hopeful about regaining the function in their arm and hand. And this all ties into hope psychology… having a goal, making a plan, and believing that it will work.

Getting the support you need

Utilizing hope psychology in your own rehabilitation is possible, and we’re here to help. With our stroke management app, we set your goal based on your current abilities. We then give you a plan to follow and allow you to track your progress. And we offer the support you need to keep on track and keep you hopeful. We want to see you get the most out of your rehabilitation efforts and see you stay resilient, determined, and positive.


The lead author of the original article was Stefan Tino Kulnik, Faculty of Health, Social Care and Education, Kingston University and St George’s, University of London, London, UK.

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Editorial note:

Defining a goal, making a plan, and believing that you can achieve that goal are key elements to successful recovery. We can help you with all three by giving you the right program and supporting you through the process.

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