Which Psychological Approaches Work for Chronic Pain Patients?

  • Someone in chronic pain may need to see a psychologist because of the huge emotional toll. Depending on the situation, a person in pain may be experiencing several distressful emotions. Pain can bring feelings of anger, possibly from being in an accident. Pain can bring feelings of depression, possibly from losing a job. Pain can also be amplified by negative thought patterns like depression, anger and catastrophizing.

     

    No matter how pain gets analyzed, no one can separate the mental effects from the physical effects of pain. Yet, in today's medical world that tends to view pain as an event rather than an experience, the physical effects of pain are primarily addressed with pills and shots, leaving mental health out in the cold like a stray dog. Ignoring the emotional hardship only invites more pain and suffering. But by inviting the dogged psychological effects of chronic pain inside the treatment plan, one can begin to relieve pain and suffering by unleashing the mind. Which types of psychological approaches have proven beneficial for chronic pain?

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    Psychodynamic Psychotherapy: This "Freudian" type of approach to chronic pain concentrates on early experiences like an early childhood trauma that can lay a foundation of unconscious factors, rendering someone prone to pain. By unlocking a suppressed grieving process or releasing a need to feel punished, a psychologist trained in psychodynamic psychotherapy can help to "clear the air" and get issues out in the open to be dealt with consciously.

     

    Cognitive-Behavioral: A large majority of psychologists practice some form of a cognitive-behavioral approach. This method emphasizes the thought processes of an individual in order to remove a maladaptive behavior. A psychologist will work with an individual to alter how he/she actively processes information from internal and environmental stimuli. Additionally, a behavioral psychologist can identify certain issues that act as a negative reinforcement or a positive reinforcement within the pain experience.

     

    Actively removing or initiating key stimuli can help weaken the pain behavior and change the experience. This active modification is done through a process of education and skills acquisition. Coping skills can be acquired through relaxation techniques that can remove anxiety and promote tranquility. Other skills can be learned through biofeedback that raises awareness levels and facilitates change. And some prefer to use hypnosis or imagery as methods of altering the pain experience. Even deep breathing exercises are taught to relieve suffering. All of these cognitive skills have been used successfully in treating patients with chronic pain.

     

    Group Therapy: Some psychologists also offer group therapy for chronic pain patients. The power of peers combats the isolationism of illness. Once someone realizes that he/she is not alone, then the feelings of helplessness and hopelessness can vanish. Groups can provide motivation for change, valuable education, and social support. A psychologist can facilitate a powerful, structured dynamic of individuals into a valuable healing tool.

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    Using a psychologist should not be frowned upon as a sign of weakness or rejection because it does not directly treat the physical aspect pain. A psychologist should be utilized because dealing with the emotional toll of pain helps to treat the entire experience and the entire person. Anger, depression, anxiety, and fear are not to be ignored as if these emotions do not matter. All emotions matter. All emotions should be invited into the treatment plan. A psychologist can open that door. Not every psychological approach is right for everybody; so, one needs to find the right doorway to transformation.  And most importantly, once opened, that doorway can help prevent drastic outcomes. Because when someone thinks "that maybe six feet ain't so far down," calling a psychologist can be worth that "one last breath."

     

    "One Last Breath" by Creed

    Please come now I think I'm falling
    I'm holding to all I think is safe
    It seems I found the road to nowhere
    And I'm trying to escape
    I yelled back when I heard thunder
    But I'm down to one last breath
    And with it let me say
    Let me say

    Hold me now
    I'm six feet from the edge and I'm thinking
    That maybe six feet
    Ain't so far down

    I'm looking down now that it's over
    Reflecting on all of my mistakes
    I thought I found the road to somewhere
    Somewhere in His grace
    I cried out heaven save me
    But I'm down to one last breath
    And with it let me say
    Let me say

    Hold me now
    I'm six feet from the edge and I'm thinking
    That maybe six feet
    Ain't so far down

    Sad eyes follow me
    But I still believe there's something left for me
    So please come stay with me
    'Cause I still believe there's something left for you and me
    For you and me
    For you and me

    Hold me now
    I'm six feet from the edge and I'm thinking

     

Published On: March 03, 2010