Dealing with chronic pain? Why you should consider seeing a psychologist.

by Natasha Durant, PhD, Pain Psychologist at MedStar Good Samaritan Hospital
October 30, 2020

According to the Academy of Pain Management, chronic pain affects more Americans than diabetes, heart disease, and cancer combined. In fact, pain is the most common reason that people see a physician. Pain— especially chronic pain—can be a complex condition that involves more than a physical sensation. Often the pain is caused by biological, psychological, and emotional factors as well.

Chronic pain can cause depression, anxiety, and stress, all of which can make the pain worse. On the #LiveWellHealthy blog, pain psychologist Natasha Durant shares why seeing a psychologist can help manage chronic pain: https://bit.ly/31Yoall.

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How can seeing a psychologist help with chronic pain?

When a person is in pain, it affects their thoughts and emotions. Pain can cause depression, anxiety, and stress, all of which can make pain worse. Pain may interrupt your ability to sleep and affect your appetite, adding to your body’s dysregulation, and these factors can make pain worse as well. It’s a vicious cycle. To treat pain effectively, you must address the emotional and psychological aspects as well as the physical.

While individuals with pain seldom think to seek assistance from a psychologist, more and more clinicians are starting to recognize that they can be a valuable part of a comprehensive pain management treatment plan.

What you can expect if you decide to see a psychologist to help manage your pain.

Most psychologists specializing in pain management use several tools to help them conceptualize the patient’s situation and inform the development of the best treatment plan. This usually includes a comprehensive interview and careful behavioral observation. There are also a number of questionnaires that are used to measure mood symptom severity, perceived disability, and personality factors, which further enhance our understanding of a patient’s pain.

Testing can also examine neurocognitive functioning. Cognitive and neurological processes such as attention, concentration, planning, reaction time, and memory may be impaired in patients with pain. This could be the result of head injuries, interference from the pain itself, or medication effects. In elderly patients, cognitive impairment may also occur as a result of dementia.

Based on this comprehensive assessment, the psychologist will design a treatment plan specific to your unique needs. Treatment plans may involve teaching you relaxation techniques and other ways to manage stress, addressing any anxiety or depression that may accompany your pain, and, if the pain contributes to insomnia, helping you with that.

Treating the emotional and psychological aspects of chronic pain can help you cope.

The majority of patients find they can manage their pain better after just a few sessions with a psychologist, though some, such as individuals with depression or dealing with a degenerative medical condition, may benefit from a longer course of treatment. Alleviating pain isn’t always straightforward. But by helping you understand and manage what you are experiencing, you can cope more effectively with your pain, and move on with your life.

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Category: Living Well     Tags: chronic painemotional healthmental healthpain managementpsychology