One of the most common reasons why people see a health practitioner is because of pain. It is easy to think that pain might be a mere physical sensation and the body’s way of alerting us towards injuries. However, pain also consists of psychological factors. For example, severe pain can create feelings such as anger, sadness, hopelessness and fear. To deal with pain, its psychological aspects are equally important. Once we understand the thoughts and emotions that accompany the pain, it can actually be quite effective in reducing the pain.
It could be possible that psychologists either work with clients of chronic pain independently or as part of a healthcare team. A psychologist will discuss the pain a person experiences, in which area it occurs, at what point it occurred and what other factors might affect it.
Once all aspects surrounding the pain are discussed, that is when a psychologist is able to begin an intervention plan.
To mention a few, some of the key areas where pain psychologists can contribute towards are:
- Lifestyle changes – Psychologists can often assist with creating necessary lifestyle changes that can allow individuals to feel relieved. Many patients have advised that they are able to manage their pain better after they’ve had a few sessions with a psychologist.
- Pain and stress – Having a condition of severe pain can be stressful. Stress can further lead to different health problems such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart illnesses and anxiety. Psychologists can assist with managing the stresses that are linked with pain. They can help teach relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises.
Some practitioners use an approach called biofeedback which teaches individuals to control certain body functions. In this process, sensors are attached to the skin, and they track the stress response via processes such as heart rate, blood pressure, etc. As strategies to relax the muscles and mind are learnt, the computer screen shows a decrease in body’s stress response.
- Being hopeful – Provided that the right kind of psychological treatment is given, many people learn to manage their pain and learn to alter their thinking in different directions. With hopeless thoughts dominating the mind, it can become challenging to fully deal with the pain. You might be taking steps to actively deal with the physical aspects of the pain, but the emotional component can still make one feel trapped by the pain.
This is where psychologists can help address the emotional impact linked with chronic pain. Using techniques such as behavioural therapy, psychologists can help identify and alter negative thoughts – those thoughts that might be exacerbating the pain.
Since chronic pain includes a medical aspect and a psychological aspect, many individuals experiencing chronic pain have benefitted from having a pain psychologist as part of their treatment plan. The reason for that is that pain psychology aims to assist people address the ways in which pain might be hindering their ability to deal with day-to-day functioning.
If you think that you can benefit from professional support on this issue you can reach out here.
Mahnoor Nadeem is a student of Masters in Clinical and Health Psychology in Lithuania and a Trainee Psychologist at Willingness. She enjoys working with children and adolescents and also exploring topics such as health psychology, family therapy and sexual health.
American Psychological Association. (2013). Managing chronic pain: How psychologists can help with pain management. Retrieved from: https://www.apa.org/topics/pain/management
Steven Richeimer, M. (2021). Psychologists Help Chronic Pain Patients. Retrieved from: https://www.spineuniverse.com/conditions/chronic-pain/psychologists-help-chronic-pain-patients