It’s not common knowledge on how psychologists can help people with chronic pain and physical health in general. However, there’s an entire field of psychology, known as health psychology, that is all about how our biology, psychology, behaviour and social factors affect our health, that is, both our physical and mental health. The field is based on promoting healthy behaviours and preventing and treating illness and disease.
People often think that pain is simply a physical stimulus, whereas pain could be biological, psychological and/or emotional (APA,2013). How pain affects our emotional and psychological state is not discussed much, even though it can cause such a drastic affect on our moods and quality of life. Being that pain/chronic illness are so diverse all aspects of our lives, be it emotional, social, physical and so on, are affected once we are diagnosed.
Health psychologists are experts at helping people cope with their pain through the use of various treatments, such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). To simplify this, a health psychologist can help you address your physical and emotional aspects of your pain, additionally they may help you talk about your stressors and worries in relation to such illness (APA,2013).
By having a concrete plan and understanding of your illness, you and your psychologist can help develop a treatment plan for you to feel better as soon as possible. Treatment options include relaxation techniques, developing your coping mechanisms and addressing any anxious or negative thoughts that can accompany your pain (APA,2013).
These thoughts could surround diverse issues, such as financial struggles, feeling like you are burdening family/friends supporting you and/or having to go through such drastic changes in your life due to your diagnosis. A psychologist can also help you make lifestyle changes that will help you continue participating in your daily activities without disruption, whilst also dealing with your own worries and helping you take steps to feel better (APA,2013).
It is highly recommended that one addresses their unpleasant emotions in conjunction with their physical experiences too. Chronic illness can cause various obstacles for people, it is not an easy journey to go through and so its crucial not to go through it alone.
Some examples of techniques used by health psychologists:
- Pain Diary – using the diary to monitor and record your symptoms, the diary includes intensity, pain location and what activities you were doing at the time.
- Pain Scales – you will report how much pain you are feeling on a scale provided to you by your psychologist. Documenting such pain on a scale has helped patients gain 30%-50% improvement.
- Assessments – you will undergo some assessments which will look into your pain, physical and emotional functions, your improvements so far, your symptoms, any events that have caused you pain and so on. This will be done so that you and your psychologist can look at your pain in a holistic manner for you to improve and be more comfortable.
Katrina Farrugia is a Masters student who works as a Childminder and Volunteer with Willingness.
American Psychological Association. (2013, December 15). Managing chronic pain: How psychologists can help with pain management. http://www.apa.org/topics/pain/management