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What is Pain Counseling?

Pain counseling is a type of pain management technique that involves psychotherapy as a method of treatment for chronic pain. Pain counseling for a patient with chronic pain can be offered in various forms, such as individual therapy, group therapy, group psychoeducational sessions, and family counseling. Approaches involved in pain counseling/psychotherapy (psychological treatment) may vary but usually fall under the umbrella terms of behavioral or cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT for chronic pain is a term that encompasses a wide range of interventions that share a set of theoretical assumptions about interactions between cognitions/thoughts, behaviors, moods, and environmental events that combine to establish patients’ subjective pain perceptions. CBT interventions involve skills and education acquisition. It is commonly employed in conjunction with other behavioral therapies and may include:

  • Cognitive ways to foster actions, thoughts, and emotions that are adaptive for managing life with pain
  • Reinforcement techniques to decrease maladaptive pain behaviors and increase adaptive behaviors
  • Increasing comprehension of personality style and its contribution to the pain experience
  • Activity pacing and decreasing fear of pain and/or activity avoidance
  • Increasing acceptance of the chronic nature of pain condition
  • Cognitive ways to manage clinical depression and anxiety disorders
  • Biofeedback and relaxation training to decrease muscle tension and promote the body’s calming response

How Can Psychologists Help with Pain Management?

Psychologists are experts in assisting patients to cope with the behaviors, feelings, and thoughts that accompany chronic pain. They may work with patients and families through an independent private practice or as part of a healthcare team in a clinical setting. You can expect your psychologist to discuss and address both the physical and emotional aspects of the pain. Your psychologist will ask about the pain you experience, when and where it occurs, and what factors may affect it. In addition, your psychologist will probably ask you to discuss any stressors or worries, including those concerned with your pain. You also may be asked to complete a questionnaire that enables you to record your own feelings and thoughts about your pain.

Having a comprehensive understanding of your issues will assist the psychologist to develop a personalized treatment plan. The plan often involves building new coping skills, addressing any depression or anxiety that may accompany your pain, and teaching relaxation techniques, such as breathing exercises or meditation to keep stress levels within limits. Some psychologists and other health care providers employ a method called biofeedback, which teaches you how to control certain body functions. In general, a psychologist can help you develop new techniques to think about problems and to find solutions. 

Studies have found that some psychotherapy can be as successful as surgery for alleviating chronic pain because psychological treatments for pain can change how your brain processes pain sensations. A psychologist can also assist you to make lifestyle changes that will enable you to continue participating in work and recreational activities. In addition, as pain often contributes to problems with sleep, a psychologist may also assist you to learn new techniques to sleep better.

What Tips May Your Psychologist Offer You for Coping with Pain?

Your psychologist may offer several ways to manage your pain during pain counseling, including:

  • Exercise: Stay healthy with low-impact exercises such as walking, yoga, swimming, and stretching.
  • Stay Active: Pain or the fear of pain can cause individuals to stop doing the things they enjoy. It is crucial not to let pain take over your life and prevent you from activities that you love to do.
  • Make Social Connections: Research indicates that individuals with greater social connections and support are more resilient and go through less anxiety and depression. Hence, seek help from your loved ones and well-wishers when you need it.
  • Know Your Limits: Continue to be active in a manner that goes with your physical limitations. Make a plan about how to manage your pain and do not push yourself to do more than you are able to.
  • Do Not Lose Hope: With the correct type of pain counseling therapy, many individuals learn to manage their pain and think of it in a different way.
  • Distract Yourself: When you experience pain flares, seek ways to distract yourself from pain. Engage in a hobby or visit a museum, take a walk, or watch a movie. Pleasurable experiences can assist you in coping with pain.
  • Follow Prescriptions: If medications are part of the treatment plan, ensure to use them as prescribed by your physician to avoid potentially dangerous side effects. In addition to assisting you formulate better methods to manage and cope with pain, psychologists can also assist you develop a routine to stay on course with your treatment.

Summary

Pain is an unpleasant feeling or discomfort caused by injury, illness, or emotional disorder. Pain can be differentiated into two basic types: acute pain and chronic pain. Acute pain is a type of pain that usually lasts less than 3 to 6 months. It typically comes on suddenly and is sharp in nature, such as after accidental trauma or surgery. Chronic pain is pain lasting beyond six months secondary to a condition affecting either a specific part of the body or the whole body.

The American Academy of Pain Medicine reports that chronic pain impacts more Americans than cancer, heart disease, and diabetes combined. People often consider pain as a physical sensation. However, pain involves psychological, emotional, and biological factors. In addition, chronic pain can cause feelings such as sadness, anxiety, anger, and hopelessness. To treat pain successfully, one must address the psychological, emotional, and physical aspects through pain counseling.

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