Psychological Treatment

If your doctor suggests psychological treatment for pain it does not mean she thinks your complaints are crazy. Of course pain can make you crazy when it persists and/or hasn’t been explained. But such treatment is not just about psychological symptoms.

Cognitive behavioral psychotherapy (CBT) deals directly with thoughts and behaviors related to one’s problems. Specific techniques such as meditation, relaxation and/or visualization are frequently used to target distress. In contrast, many if not most other forms of psychotherapy focus on understanding or uncovering the sources of one’s distress, often in relation to the past. In clinical practice, psychotherapists often use a mixture of therapeutic techniques to address the patient’s needs.

With respect to the treatment of chronic pain, research has so far shown that cognitive behavioral approaches give patients the best chance at over all improvement. CBT concerns itself with changing behavior, emotional responses and attitudes that are part of the experience of pain. It emphasizes training to better manage pain and distress in the here and now rather than developing insight through exploring the past.

In most multidisciplinary pain programs CBT is the most widely used psychological intervention. In keeping with the idea that chronic pain is a disease, CBT does not treat pain and distress as symptoms but as the targets of its techniques. Some of the methods it incorporates such as meditation, have received wide attention and research has confirmed their benefits in pain management.

Psychological interventions work with the mind and consciousness itself. The successes of such treatments support the notion that the experience of pain can be altered through conscious effort and training. Considerable research is required to understand more clearly how the mind works, let alone how it can be best used to treat pain. Nevertheless, psychological treatment is now known to be a key component in pain treatment and its importance will likely grow along side our understanding of pain.