How Psychologists Help With Chronic Pain


Psychological counseling is an important factor in properly treating and managing chronic pain. Pain often results in mental health problems, and mental health conditions cause increased pain sensitivity. These physical and emotional difficulties create a vicious cycle. Conditions, such as fibromyalgia, endometriosis, arthritis, and multiple sclerosis, may be accompanied by depression, anxiety, PTSD, suicidal thoughts, or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Therefore, a person with chronic pain may be referred to a psychologist as part of a treatment plan.

How psychologists can help

Psychologists help with learning to cope with thoughts, feelings and behaviors that oftentimes accompany chronic pain. They may work together with other health care professionals to address the emotional and physical symptoms of pain. Examples of how a psychologist can help with chronic pain include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Stress is the body’s emotional, mental and physical response to any change that requires adaptation or reaction. It is a huge contributor to chronic pain and may trigger or worsen muscle tension or muscle spasms. As part of a treatment plan, a psychologist can teach relaxation techniques to ease tension during times of increased stress.
  • Biofeedback is a technique in which an individual can learn to control specific bodily functions, such as heart rate, breathing, muscle contractions, and brainwaves. It can help with learning to relax muscles or reduce pain. It involves wearing sensors that are attached to a computer screen to visually track how the body’s stress response decreases with the use of relaxation techniques.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (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.
  • Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) is an action-oriented psychotherapy that focuses on accepting life experiences and committing to staying focused on the present moment. Pain, illness, grief, anxiety, sadness and regret are inevitable throughout life. ACT helps individuals accept these hardships and make necessary changes to move forward by developing psychological flexibility.

A therapist can help with improving pain symptoms by providing ways to change the thought process concerning pain, make lifestyle changes, and find new, healthy ways to cope. Studies have shown that psychological treatments can change how pain is processed in the brain.

Additional source: Verywell Mind