The Nature of Pain

Pain serves an important purpose by alerting you to injuries such as a sprained ankle or burned hand. Chronic pain, however, is often more complex. Although people often think of pain as a purely physical sensation, pain has biological, psychological and emotional factors. Furthermore, chronic pain can cause feelings such as anger, hopelessness, sadness and anxiety. To treat pain effectively, you must address its physical, emotional and psychological aspects. Medical treatments, including medication, surgery, rehabilitation and physical therapy, may be helpful for treating chronic pain. Psychological treatments are also an important part of pain management. Understanding and managing the thoughts, emotions and behaviors that accompany the discomfort can help you cope more effectively with your pain — and can actually reduce the intensity of your pain.

Psychological Treatments for Pain

Psychologists are experts in helping people cope with the thoughts, feelings and behaviors that accompany chronic pain. They may work with individuals and families through an independent private practice or as part of a health care team in a clinical setting. Patients with chronic pain may be referred to psychologists by other health care providers. Psychologists may collaborate with other health care professionals to address both the physical and emotional aspects of patients’ pain. When working with a psychologist, you can expect to discuss your physical and emotional health. The psychologist will ask about the pain you experience, where and when it occurs, and what factors may affect it. In addition, he or she will likely ask you to discuss any worries or stresses, including those related to your pain. You also may be asked to complete a questionnaire that allows you to record your thoughts and feelings about your pain. Having a comprehensive understanding of your concerns will help the psychologist begin to develop a treatment plan. For patients dealing with chronic pain, treatment plans are designed for that particular patient. The plan often involves teaching relaxation techniques, changing old beliefs about pain, building new coping skills and addressing any anxiety or depression that may accompany your pain. One way to do this is by helping you learn to challenge any unhelpful thoughts you have about pain. A psychologist can help you develop new ways to think about problems and find solutions. In some cases, distracting yourself from pain is helpful. In other cases, a psychologist can help you develop new ways to think about your pain. Studies have found that some psychotherapy can be as effective as surgery for relieving chronic pain because psychological treatments for pain can alter how your brain processes pain sensations. A psychologist can also help you make lifestyle changes that will allow you to continue participating in work and recreational activities. And because pain often contributes to insomnia, a psychologist may also help you learn new ways to sleep better.

Progress and Improvement

Most patients find they can better manage their pain after just a few sessions with a psychologist. Those who are experiencing depression or dealing with a long-term degenerative medical condition may benefit from a longer course of treatment. Together with your psychologist, you will determine how long treatment should last. The goal is to help you develop skills to cope with your pain and live a full life.

Source:

www.apa.org/helpcenter/pain-management.pdf