Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Approach for Managing Pain

Source: WebMD

Chronic pain is a veritable epidemic, with over 100 million Americans reportedly suffering from pain that lasts more than three months. There are several approaches to treating chronic pain, but many of them include negative side effects. However, there’s one approach to treatment that involves no negative side effects and may even improve overall health: cognitive behavioral therapy.

How is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Used to Manage Pain?

Rather than addressing the physical cause of pain as most medical approaches do, CBT addresses instead the way that pain affects the patient’s life. The aim is to use CBT techniques to reduce the impact of pain, which may also help reduce stress, which tends to increase the frequency and severity of pain. It has the potential to break a chemical cycle in the brain that causes many chronic pain patients a great deal of distress. The coping mechanisms and other skills taught help increase function and allow people who suffer from chronic pain to get active, which may also help reduce pain.

Approach to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

When cognitive behavioral therapy is used to treat chronic pain, the thought patterns that typically occur when people are often in pain must be changed. They must learn to recognize negative thoughts and learn that those thoughts aren’t productive. They then learn coping mechanisms to learn how to deal with their pain more productively and think positively. Chronic pain sufferers may benefit from group or individual CBT, especially if other treatments have been ineffective.

Phases of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

There are three phases of cognitive behavioral therapy for pain relief:

  1. In this phase, the patient’s pain is validated and they are educated about how stress can cause pain. Introspection is used to find the cause of their stress, and they’re taught to make judgements on whether those stressors are really as important as they seem.
  2. Next, patients are taught to pick out negative thoughts about their pain, challenge those thoughts, and then replace them with empowering thoughts about their pain.
  3. In the third phase, patients learn to identify their ingrained beliefs about pain and recognize how those beliefs affect their lives. They then begin working on changing the beliefs that have negative impacts on their life or those that are somewhat distorted.