Behavioral Medicine Clinical Services

Behavioral Treatment of Chronic Pain

Pain becomes chronic when it does not improve with time. It can become an illness unto itself. Chronic pain causes many people to have difficulty functioning in daily activities. Often, pain treatment such as medications, injections and surgery cannot completely relieve chronic pain or the long-term suffering and disability that can develop. There are quite a few reasons why someone who suffers from chronic pain could benefit from seeing a psychologist. The most important is that research shows that psychologists who use cognitive-behavioral therapy to treat patients with chronic pain results in reduced pain, disability, and psychological distress. Ultimately, the reason would be so that you have less pain and improve the quality of your life.

There are misconceptions about the behavioral treatment of chronic pain. One is that meeting with a psychologist says that the pain lacks a physical cause. None of us wants an encounter that might suggest our pain is not real. Psychologists understand that there is a physical basis to pain. Psychologists are involved in the treatment of chronic pain because they can offer effective strategies for the management of pain. They also know patients suffering from chronic pain are often in a vicious cycle. It is clear that pain is real and causes stress, tension, anxiety, or depression which in turn causes more pain. For the sufferer it can be very helpful to discuss all this with someone familiar with pain.

Who Might Benefit?

  • Pain sufferers who experience stress
    Stress and pain are inter-related. For a person in pain, the typical hassles of daily life can become much more challenging. Stress can also influence pain levels. Physical reactions to stress, such as increased muscle tension, can greatly intensify pain. Pain causes stress and stress intensifies pain. Stress management training is designed to break the pain-stress cycle. Use of relaxation techniques is one very common coping strategy for managing stress. Relaxation techniques reduce muscle tension and anxiety, increases self-control and leaves a person feeling better. The psychologist will present different forms of relaxation and encourage daily practice.
  • Pain sufferers who have problems taking medication as prescribed
    Many patients have trouble sticking to the medical treatment recommended. This leads to inadequate management of their chronic pain. There are many reasons why people do not take pain medications including high cost, limitations on pill quantities imposed by health insurers, concerns about negative side effects, and safety concerns for pregnant women. Patients may find that using behavioral treatments may reduce their use of medications.
  • Pain sufferers with lifestyle factors that exacerbate their pain
    There are other issues in your life that influence chronic and its impact. These include problems with sleep, unhealthy eating habits, lack of exercise, tobacco use, or high consumption of caffeine. Research has shown that making changes in these areas help to reduce the intensity, duration, and frequency of chronic pain. The psychologist can work with you on making these changes in a step by step manner.
  • Pain sufferers who feel their pain has stopped them from leading a satisfying life
    Pain can interfere with many activities. Often individuals with chronic pain find that they have given up important or enjoyable activities because of pain. When dealing with chronic pain, individuals are often not able to do things in quite the same way that they did before they had pain. The psychologist can help you to learn how to approach tasks and activities in new ways, so that you do not increase your pain. For many individuals with chronic pain, the pain becomes the focus of their lives. The psychologist can help you to learn strategies to deal with pain in new ways so you can re-focus your life on what is most important to you.

What Should I Expect from My First Visit with a Psychologist?

The psychologist wants to understand how chronic pain affects your life. You will be asked questions about the history and nature of your pain. There will be questions about past treatment attempts. There will be a focus on how chronic pain currently affects your work, relationships, home life, and leisure activities. The provider may ask you to fill out some questionnaires in advance to best understand you.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) teaches you how to recognize and cope with factors in your life that may increase your pain experience. It helps to understand how thoughts and behaviors affect symptoms. You and the psychologist will set specific treatment goals together. The chief goal is to exchange sick time for wellness time. You can spend the exchanged time enjoying yourself, staying healthy, managing triggers and stress thereby reducing pain. Treatment may focus on any or all of the following:

  • Wellness Activities (Healthy Sleep, Physical Activity and Eating)
  • Relaxation Strategies and Stress Management Techniques
  • Modifying Thoughts to Make Them More Adaptive and Beneficial
  • Pacing of Activities and Realistic Expectations for Undertaking Tasks
  • Communicating with Health Care Providers

Make an Appointment

Behavioral treatment is meant to empower you to act in your own best interests. Choosing comprehensive treatment helps you manage the difficulties in the many areas of your life that have been influenced by chronic pain. If you are ready to approach the management of your chronic pain in a new way, pursue behavioral treatment by calling 401-793-8770 for an appointment.