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Looking Beyond Just Medicine: Treating Chronic Pain with Psychological Therapy

Treating Chronic Pain with Psychological Therapy

Millions of Americans suffer from chronic pain every single day. Most rely on medication and surgery to help alleviate pain. The former can be very addicting and only mask the true problem; the latter can be very expensive and even unnecessary. Very few people with chronic pain use one of the best tools out there for treatment: psychological and psychiatric treatment of pain.

What’s worse: their physicians don’t even think to mention that their patients’ pain could be psychogenic in nature, which is essentially pain that has a psychological origin. A lot of time, headache, stress, money and resources could be saved if this suggestion is made when all other Band-Aid approaches seem to be failing.

Instead, the American way is to use powerful medication, often teeming with side effects that may even outweigh the original symptoms. Opioids are commonly prescribed by doctors to address all kinds of chronic pain. Sadly, more than 130 people in this country die each day by overdosing on opioids, which include prescription pain killers and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl. This has turned into a serious national crisis impacting public health.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, nearly 30 percent of patients who are prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them, with up to 12 percent of them developing an opioid disorder. Some transition to heroin. In fact, 80 percent of people who use heroin started off misusing prescription opioids for chronic pain.

Isn’t there a better way? Yes, in fact, there is.

Natural Relief From Psychological Therapy

There are about 100 million Americans who suffer from chronic pain, ranging from back and neck pain to fibromyalgia symptoms, or many other untold forms of pain that simply have no diagnosed physical cause.

Cognitive behavioral therapy shows impactful benefits on chronic pain, both for psychogenic pain, and for pain stemming from an actual physical cause. Yet pain psychologists are hard to come by, and many patients aren’t even aware they exist. Worse yet, these therapies are usually suggested as a last-ditch effort for the hopeless – people who have literally tried everything else to relieve pain to no avail.

A shift is happening, though, in the understanding of pain – so much so that the use of psychology shouldn’t be a last resort, but one of the first.

Numerous studies have been done on pain over the years. Some people suffer a one-time injury and have pain the rest of their lives. Others fall victim to an illness. Still others have no injury at all that they can recall. Yet, the pain follows them. It has a lot to do with so-called pain alarms that can trip in your mind, influenced by our thoughts, personalities, and learned behaviors.

In the end, pain isn’t just something that happens to you. In fact, you participate with pain by the amount of attention you give to it and by the contents of your thoughts.

Those who catastrophize their pain and think only of the worst possible outcomes may experience more intense pain, risk of developing chronic pain, and experiencing higher levels of fatigue. The same thing happens to those with anxiety, where feelings are magnified and stay on a loop of negative worry.

CBT

The most common psychological treatment for pain is cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT. It happens to be one of the most rigorously tested and effective tools in psychology, often used to treat anxiety, phobias, and mood disorders such as depression. It’s also widely used to help patients manage chronic pain.

The goal of this therapy is to develop a new understanding about pain: In the absence of physical harm, certain thoughts and behaviors can make pain worse. CBT, in essence, helps people change their ways of processing beliefs and experiences when they are overly negative, targeting negative behaviors, encouraging people to exercise, and helping them change problematic manners of movement.

It’s not a cure-all. It doesn’t work for everyone. But many feel it reduces their chronic pain and increases their quality of life. The bottom line is CBT and other psychological therapies should be one of the main tools patients use, putting control back in their hands when it comes to their chronic pain.

Contact Comprehensive MedPsych Systems

Comprehensive MedPsych Systems offers a multi-disciplinary approach for pain management, proven to be the most efficient way to ensure long-term improvement in coping with pain as well as improvement in daily living. To make your appointment, contact us today.

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