Mediating the relation between workplace stressors and distress in ID support staff: Comparison between the roles of psychological inflexibility and coping styles


The present study examined how different patterns of coping influence psychological distress for staff members in programs serving individuals with intellectual disabilities. With a series of path models, we examined the relative usefulness of constructs (i.e., wishful thinking and psychological inflexibility) from two distinct models of coping (i.e., the transactional model and the psychological flexibility models, respectively) as mediators to explain how workplace stressors lead to psychological distress in staff serving individuals with intellectual disabilities. Analyses involved self-report questionnaires from 128 staff members (84% female; 71% African American) from a large, state-funded residential program for individuals with intellectual and physical disabilities in the southern United States of America. Cross-sectional path models using bootstrapped standard errors and confidence intervals revealed both wishful thinking and psychological inflexibility mediated the relation between workplace stressors and psychological distress when they were included in separate models. However, when both variables were included in a multiple mediator model, only psychological inflexibility remained a significant mediator. The results suggest psychological inflexibility and the psychological flexibility model may be particularly useful for further investigation on the causes and amelioration of workplace-related stress in ID settings.

Research in Developmental Disabilities

Warning: In some regards, I’m proud of this paper. It is my first first-authored paper and the first paper for which I was the primary data analyst. Through this project, I got a great introduction to mediation, path analysis, and structural equation modeling. This was also my first experience where someone entrusted me with their data. The paper was accepted in my second year of grad school.

However, in the years since then, I’ve learned a lot about longitudinal data analysis, multilevel thinking, and the distinction between between- and within-person processes. These studies have led me to conclude that cross-sectional data are a poorly-suited for studying person-level mediation. It’s not impossible that the mediational processes discussed and estimated in this paper are reasonable approximations of the day-to-day processes as lived in the lives of our participants and others like them. But it’s a stretch and I recommend others take the findings in this paper very lightly.

If you would like an introduction to the issues I’m dancing around, I recommend the (2012) chapter by the great Ellen Hamaker, Why researchers should think “within-person”: A paradigmatic rationale. These opinions are mine and mine alone. I do not speak for my co-authors.