What is pain and pain management?
Pain has been defined as an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience varying in strength and duration. It is usually associated with injury, disease, or emotional distress.
Most people see their physician for pain management. It’s understandable. We’ve all experienced pain – in one form or another – and know the discomfort linked to it. We want relief!
But when your pain becomes chronic, the level of discomfort rises exponentially. Your pain becomes your whole world. And all too often, even the best medical care may not resolve this agonizing and long-lasting issue.
Research has actually shown that by adding psychotherapy to pain management, you can achieve the most comprehensive results.
The Complexity of Chronic Pain and Pain Management
Chronic pain affects more people than heart disease, diabetes, and cancer combined. It is a complex issue – involving biological, psychological, and emotional factors. Chronic pain can cause feelings of anger, anxiety, hopelessness, and sadness.
For that reason, pain management for chronic pain sufferers requires a multi-dimensional angle approach. It has to effectively address those physical, mental, and emotional factors involved.
Psychologists specializing in this type of pain management commonly take into consideration every aspect of your life as a whole. Working hand-in-hand with your physician, they can design a treatment plan that addresses all aspects of your chronic pain, fitting your individual circumstances.
Consider how psychotherapy impacts the three main aspects of chronic pain:
Addressing the Psychological Aspect
Pain perception takes place in the brain. Psychotherapy, therefore, is effective for chronic pain since it can alter how your brain processes the pain sensations. This can help greatly with chronic pain management and relief from discomfort.
A psychologist may use Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to address the thoughts and behaviours that fuel your pain perception. CBT will assist you to identify negative thought and behaviour patterns and to develop skills to change them. It can help alter your view of pain and improve your coping skills, which ultimately leads to a better quality of life.
Aside from CBT, a therapist may also teach you relaxation techniques, such as meditation, guided imagery, mindfulness, or visualization.
Addressing the Physical Aspect
Although pain is perceived in the brain, it’s not “all in your head”. – It’s not imagined, it’s real.
CBT can be used together with physical pain management methods like medications, physical therapy, or massages to treat chronic pain. It can actually alter the level of stress you experience due to your pain. Through this, CBT affects the impact on brain chemicals that are part of your natural pain relief response. The result is an actual physical reduction of pain intensity.
On top of this, therapy can also teach you methods to improve sleep problems, since chronic pain often contributes to insomnia.
Addressing the Emotional Aspect
Living with chronic pain is stressful. Stress can cause muscle tension or spasms that may increase pain symptoms. Stress may also contribute to high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, obesity, depression, and anxiety.
Learning to manage your emotions – particular in connection with stress – can have a direct impact on the intensity of your pain. Cognitive-Behavioural strategies and other stress managing techniques can help you address anxiety and depression. They can also assist with minimizing the risk of developing various dangerous medical conditions.
As you can see, chronic pain management isn’t just about using medication to find relief. It should include cognitive therapy – not just to teach you how to cope, but also to actually reduce the physical sensation of your pain.
Of course, psychotherapy isn’t a cure. But it does play a very important part in the treatment of chronic pain by helping you to improve the quality of your whole life.
About the author
Cristina M. Fandino, Ed.D.; M.Ed. is a registered psychotherapist who currently owns a private practice in the Beaches, Toronto. She specializes in depression, anxiety, addictions as well as expatriate and multicultural issues in couples and families.