If you are one of the more than 3 million people living with chronic pain, than you know how it can affect every aspect of your life. Everyone experiences pain throughout their life. Maybe you accidentally burn your hand on the stove, trip walking up the stairs, slip getting out of the shower, or bang your elbow walking through a doorway. These are all things that cause some sort of tissue damage and/or inflammation and results in what is known as “acute pain.” This kind of pain is common and goes away after a few days or few weeks. Sometimes though, pain doesn’t go away and when it lasts more than 3 months, it becomes known as “chronic pain.”
If you have ever experienced chronic pain, you know that it affects everything you do. You know that you have good days, bad days, and horrible days. It can be hard to get your household chores done, to get through a workday, to play with your kids or grandkids, or even to sleep. Most people with chronic pain have tried many things to help, including medication, surgery, acupuncture, praying, physical therapy, and more. One thing that can help that unfortunately not a lot of people know about is cognitive behavioral therapy for chronic pain.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT, is a type of treatment that helps identify the ways that our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are all related. Once you’ve identified your negative thoughts and how they impact your feelings and behaviors, your CBT therapist will help you change those thoughts to be more adaptive. Your therapist will also teach you skills to practice and master that will ultimately lead to an improvement in your quality of life. CBT for chronic pain often includes learning different relaxation techniques to target either your whole body or specific muscle groups. You will also learn ways to get through your days with greater ease and hopefully less pain. For example, you may learn a technique called pacing which, with practice, can help you get through more activities every day with less pain. Many people with chronic pain either push through their pain which ultimately makes the pain worse or they wait to do things on a day when they have less pain which means they get less done. Pacing is a technique that has been shown to be effective at getting through more activities more regularly without increasing your pain levels.
Because living with chronic pain can be quite difficult, many people also suffer from depression, anxiety, or insomnia. CBT is not only effective for treating chronic pain, but is also well-established as a treatment of choice for managing depression, anxiety, and insomnia. Because of that, CBT for chronic pain often incorporates skills to address symptoms of other things as well. By targeting all different aspects of quality of life and mental health, CBT for chronic pain can lead to more significant gains than other treatments that only target the pain.
If you are living with chronic pain and want to try an empirically-based treatment, please seek out CBT from a trained clinician. I have expertise in health psychology and have spent the last decade working with people living with chronic pain. Contact me if you would like to schedule an initial phone call to discuss further.