Mental Techniques for Physical Pain

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Patients come to see us for a wide variety of reasons. From chronic conditions that are on-set in the late stages of life, to injuries from accidents, and all the more reasons in between. Regardless of why you come to see us, it is important for us to take care of the whole you. Our practice deeply believes in a multidisciplinary approach that includes having a psychologist on staff. Our psychologist can help patients work through their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors to assist them in getting back to living their lives. 

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a popular type of mental health treatment that emphasizes the roles that thoughts, emotions, and behaviors have in mutually influencing each other. As the name implies, the focus is on both thoughts and actions. There is an emphasis on identifying specific problems, and learning skills to address these problems which are typically practiced in-between sessions with a mental health provider.

These techniques have been applied to many different kinds of both mental and physical health problems, have accumulated a large amount of empirical support from diverse sources, and have demonstrated a consistent role in mainstream healthcare.

People who struggle with chronic pain have successfully applied cognitive behavioral therapy techniques directly to their pain and to commonly related problems with mood, sleep, and anxiety. CBT strategies for chronic pain often involve learning relaxation techniques, activity pacing strategies, identifying and working toward behavioral goals, and learning to identify and replace negative thoughts.

Directly changing the intensity of pain is not a primary goal of CBT, but specifically addressing negative thoughts and unhelpful behaviors can lead to improved outcomes including increased sense of control, better understanding of pain, healthier habits, and improved coping skills. Finding ways to improve quality of life is a central goal of cognitive behavioral therapy and pain management in general. CBT has also been shown to indirectly improve the experience of pain by limiting the effects of the stress in our bodies.

CBT has been shown to be helpful on its own, but like most treatments, it is most effective when combined with other strategies. Pain management treatments such as medications, medical procedures, physical therapy, weight loss, massage therapy, etc. work very well in conjunction with CBT strategies to improve mood, physical functioning, and quality of life. Arguably the best component of cognitive behavioral strategies is that teaches techniques that last forever can be used to help manage other common negative life experiences. While Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is most often applied by seeing a therapist, there are a number of available CBT resources that do not require seeing a therapist, including books, websites, and videos that can help solidify and maintain the skills you learn. 

Ben Weinstein, PhD