Do you suffer from long-term or chronic pain? If so you might be interested to find out that as well as physical health treatments such as medication there is also good evidence to show that psychotherapy for pain management can be helpful to many people that have a chronic pain condition.
What Is Chronic Pain?
Most of us can imagine feeling physical pain. When we talk about it we are referring to an intense, unpleasant and uncomfortable sensation in the body. For most people the only times we feel this will be when we have done something that is either harmful to the body or as a physical warning to us to move our body in order to stay healthy in some way. This type of pain is known as acute pain, and is the most common day to day type of physical pain. For example, imagine you accidentally touched a hot kettle, the immediate acute pain would be a warning to you that there is danger and for you to take action to avoid damaging your body.
Chronic pain is equally an intense sensation in the body, however by definition is something that occurs at a significant level for long periods of time, and usually doesn’t relate to something that you are directly doing as in the example above. Whilst it might be clear to you what has triggered your pain in the first place (such as an injury, health condition etc) it is often unclear as to what is maintaining the pain now. In many cases people with chronic pain will have had a range of physical health test and investigations and been told that there is physically ‘nothing wrong’, or that there is nothing ‘that can be done’ to change the pain but that the only option is to manage it in some way.
What Can Make Chronic Pain Worse?
As well as changes in the body that are leading to long term sensations of pain, there are other factors that can make the situation harder on someone experiencing chronic pain. One key aspect is the types of emotions people experience when they are a having pain episode. In fact, one definition of physical pain includes ‘the combination of physical sensory and emotional experiences’. The implications of this are that depending upon the types of sensations we get and the emotions (or moods) we experience -our overall experience and wellbeing will change.
A useful way to think of this is by separating out physical pain on the one hand, and overall distress levels on the other. In most cases, when people seek treatment for a long term health condition it is not the condition itself that is the main problem any more – rather it is the consequences of having the condition that increases their overall distress.
Why Psychotherapy For Pain Management?
Whilst psychotherapy can’t directly reduce the sensations that occur in the body, it can help you to better understand the consequences of having these sensations on other aspects of your life. For example; how does being in pain make you feel? How does it change your thinking about the future? How Does it affect your lifestyle, in terms of sleep, appetite and activity levels? All of these things interact and and lead to experiencing higher distress levels as a result of how the pain is reacted to.
Have you ever seen someone walking on hot coals and wondered how they do it? It is absolutely true that they feel the same levels of burning sensation in their feet as anybody else would. The crucial difference is that the way they think about the sensation and the affect it has on them, have been altered in such a way to minimise the impact that the pain has. There is very little physical change here, rather they are understanding the pain in a different way by changing their perception and meanings of it. This can sometimes be an unusual or difficult idea to imagine at first.
How Does Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Help Chronic Pain?
Psychotherapy for pain management works in exactly the same way. By exploring the implications you see of experiencing long-term pain it is possible to understand the impact these perceptions might be having on your mood and life. Approaches like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (which we offer at our clinics) is based on the idea that ‘how we think’ changes ‘how we feel emotionally’ and the two combined can change our actions (for the better or worse.) In turn the ways we cope can feed back into our overall experiences. For example, someone who perceives their pain as ‘unrelenting’ is likely to feel low, stressed or frustrated.
These types of moods are likely to increase changes or withdrawing from important aspects of their life. The overall result being them having more time to focus on their internal sensations to the gradual exclusion of the external world around them.
It is this cycle of pain that increases distress which Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is designed to explore and break.
What Does it Involve?
Your therapist is likely to explore how pain affects your daily life. In early Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapy sessions you might be invited to keep an activity and pain record. Tools such as this can help to identify links between pain levels and times of the day and activities. They also allow you to experiment with changing the way you approach activities in your life. For example, clients can often be surprised that distress levels can drop over time as they increase their activity despite the pain.
In order to help you make physical changes in your life to reduce the consequences pain has to you, your therapist will help you identify your thinking patterns. Very often people experiencing chronic pain will experience particular cognitive thinking errors, within three different domains:
1) How they see their life in future
2) The damage they assess might be happening to their body by doing things that lead to pain
3) How well they think they will be able to cope with higher levels of pain.
A Cognitive Behavioural Therapist will be able to work with you in order to explore what leads you to having particular thoughts along these lines, and where these types of thoughts have developed from. Once you understand this, it is usually possible to explore other ways of looking at these areas of your life that cause you less distress.
Where Can I Get Psychotherapy For Pain Management?
Many hospitals and pain management clinics now offer Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction for people that experience long-term physical pain. Within the NHS these services can be very popular and sometimes there are long waiting lists or particular restrictions to who can access these services.
Within the private sector it is usually possible to receive an initial appointment with a Psychotherapist within a very short space of time. Our clinics endeavour to offer all new clients access to one of our therapists within 48 hours in order to start treatment. If you are looking to go private, it is important to ensure that the person you choose is appropriately qualified. Things to look out for are whether they hold BABCP accreditation, or are Registered with the British Psychological Society
If you would like to meet with one of our team to see if we can help you manage chronic pain better, why not contact us or book an initial appointment on: 0845 056 3872