Does Seeing a Psychiatrist, Psychologist or Therapist Indicate That Pain Is Imaginary?


What is pain?

Pain is a signal from the central nervous system indicating that something is wrong. Pain can actually be helpful; it alerts the brain to take action. Pain is a subjective experience; it differs for each person. Chronic pain is any pain that continues for three to six months or after healing would have normally occurred.

Pain-anxiety-depression connection

A connection exists between chronic pain, anxiety, and depression. This partially occurs due to psychological factors. For example, experiencing chronic pain can cause depression, and depression can feel like physical pain. Another part of the connection is biological, in which pain and mental health conditions impact brain chemicals, such as cortisol, serotonin and norepinephrine. Other factors in the connection of pain, anxiety and depression may include social isolation due to pain levels, sleeping difficulties caused by pain, or excessive worry surrounding the pain condition.

How can a psychiatrist, psychologist and therapist help with pain?

The emotional, biological and psychological factors of chronic pain can cause feelings of sadness, hopelessness, anger, etc. In order to properly treat pain, the physical, emotional and psychological features must also be treated. Many health care professionals recommend a multidisciplinary approach in treatment of chronic pain. This is not an indication that the pain is imaginary. Below are examples of how a psychiatrist, psychologist and therapist can help those with a chronic pain condition.


A psychiatrist can prevent, diagnose and treat mental health conditions. They can prescribe medications or other medical treatments deemed necessary. They are medical doctors (M.D. or D.O.) that typically treat complex mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, etc. Since a psychiatrist is a medical doctor, they can differentiate between mental health issues and medical conditions, including chronic pain. They can monitor how mental health is affected by a chronic pain condition and if mental health causes other health conditions, such as high blood pressure or heart problems.


A psychologist is highly trained in clinical psychology. They obtain a doctoral degree (PhD) and treat mental health conditions with talk therapy. A psychologist cannot prescribe medications. Their field of study focuses on the mind, behavior and emotions. They can help treat fear of pain, pain catastrophizing, trauma, pain acceptance, etc.


A therapist evaluates the mental health of individuals. They have a master’s degree in a mental health-related field. Examples include family therapy, psychology, and counseling. They cannot prescribe medications; however, they can help with meditation, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), hypnosis for pain, biofeedback, mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), etc.