Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Approach for Managing Pain


What is cognitive behavioral therapy?

Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, is a common type of psychotherapy; it is a combination of cognitive therapy, which focuses on moods and thoughts, and behavioral therapy, which focuses on actions and behaviors. It involves learning how to identify and change inaccurate or negative thoughts and behavioral patterns in order to respond to stressful situations in a more effective way.

CBT is an effective treatment for various mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder. It is beneficial for anyone learning to better manage stressful situations. CBT has also been linked to reduced pain perception.

How does cognitive behavior therapy treat pain?

CBT teaches coping mechanisms to change the way pain is viewed. By changing emotions, thought patterns, and behaviors, the discomfort of pain interferes less with the quality of life. Stress can negatively affect overall health, especially when the stress is severe or chronic. Stress can actually worsen chronic pain, and pain can cause stress to increase, resulting in a vicious cycle. CBT can help reduce the impact that stress has on norepinephrine and serotonin chemicals in the brain, which fuel pain receptors. By reducing stress, the body’s natural pain relief response becomes stronger.

Phases of cognitive behavioral therapy

The three phases of cognitive behavioral therapy for pain relief include the following:

  • Pain is validated, and a therapist educates individuals on how stress can increase pain perception. Self-analysis finds the cause of the stress, and the stressors are evaluated to determine if they are as important as they seem.
  • Determine which negative thoughts are about pain. Challenge those thoughts, and then replace them with empowering statements about the pain.
  • Identify ingrained beliefs concerning pain and recognize how those beliefs impact everyday life. Begin to change beliefs that have negative impacts on life or those that are distorted.
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