Health psychologists explore the impact of behavior on health and create ways to help people make the behavior choices that include fostering good health and preventing illness.
How Can a Psychologist Help with Pain Management?
First and foremost, to treat chronic pain effectively, you must address its physical, emotional, and psychological aspects. People often think of pain as a purely physical sensation. However, pain has biological, psychological, and emotional factors. Further, chronic pain can cause feelings such as anger, hopelessness, sadness, and anxiety. Understanding and managing the thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that accompany the discomfort can help you more effectively cope with your pain and can even reduce the intensity of the pain you experience.
When working with a psychologist, you can expect to discuss your physical and emotional health. You will be asked about your pain experience, where and when it occurs, and what factors may affect it. Additionally, you may be asked about worries or anxiety related to your pain. You may also be asked to complete questionnaires that allow you and your psychologist to develop a personalized treatment plan. Interventions often include teaching stress reduction techniques, changing unhelpful beliefs about pain, building new coping skills, learning to effectively pace your activity levels throughout the day, explore new ways to sleep better, explore lifestyle changes that will allow you to find meaning and purpose in life, and addressing any anxiety or depression that may be associated with your pain. Some 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.
Most patients find they can better manage their pain after just a few sessions with a psychologist. Those who have depression or are dealing with a chronic degenerative medical condition may benefit from a longer course of treatment. Together with your psychologist, you will determine how long your treatment should last.
Stress and Chronic Pain
Having chronic pain can be very stressful and unfortunately, stress can contribute to a range of health problems including high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, depression, and anxiety. Additionally, stress can trigger muscle tension or muscle spasms that can increase pain. Psychologists can help you manage the stressors in your life related to your chronic pain.
Stress is an unavoidable part of life, but managing your stress will help your body and your mind and lessen your pain. Because managing your emotions can directly affect the intensity of your pain, psychologists help you learn relaxation techniques to keep stress levels under control.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for Chronic Pain is used to address symptoms and distress associated with the experience of chronic pain. Interventions include the following: psychoeducation on the relationship between mood and pain, relaxation and stress reduction techniques, activity pacing, pleasant activity scheduling, values-based goals setting, sleep hygiene, and cognitive restructuring.Dr. Jaylyn Clark is a Clinical Health Psychologist who recently completed her postdoctoral fellowship in Clinical and Health Psychology at the VA Connecticut Healthcare/Yale system in 2019. She trained with Dr. Michael Robinson at the University of Florida before completing a Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) internship at the University of Florida with a focus on management of chronic medical illness among rural, underserved populations. Her primary clinical and research interests include improving the delivery of evidence-based non-pharmacological treatments for chronic pain, increasing patient self-management of pain, addressing health disparities in pain-related outcomes, and facilitating positive patient-provider communication in multidisciplinary teams.