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Coping With Chronic Pain

Shannon M. Duffy, MFT, LCPC

Pain affects your overall mood and in turn, can affect the quality of your life. It is becoming more important and beneficial for those who experience acute and chronic pain to address pain management within the psychotherapy atmosphere. We typically just associate pain with physical components, however, those who have chronic pain experience unpleasant sensory and emotional difficulties. There is a very high prevalence of comorbidity of mood disorders with those who experience pain. Specifically seen are symptoms associated with depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. The rate of suicide is also a factor as pain can lead to feeling hopeless about one’s quality of life. Psychotherapy can provide ways to accept and adapt to chronic pain, assess for mood disorders, develop coping strategies for pain management, and help create and sustain a better quality of life.

Pain management has become a more prevalent presenting concern in psychotherapy as many individuals are wanting healthier alternatives than traditional medicine or pain medications. This entails wanting to take a holistic approach to pain management where they are incorporating functional medicine, eastern medicine, dietary changes, and mental health. Pain has become an undertreated epidemic in our society, so it is helpful to understand the resources you have available to you. Where you live can be a factor in how to cope with pain if medications are the main treatment resource. Addressing how to incorporate self-care to integrate a holistic way to manage pain is where the alternatives are helpful to eliminate the need for medications.

How therapy can aid in pain management is in utilizing Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, in addition to motivation for change, and Mindfulness practices. Each one of these techniques can provide compassion towards implementing the following five coping strategies; understanding pain, coping with pain, learning to accept the pain, finding calm and restoring balance. Understanding pain can start with where your pain occurred and at what stage. Acute pain is what is experienced at the time of the injury through the recovery time of about three to six months. Coping skills and self-care are important to address within psychotherapy for acute pain in aiding to the recovery period with a positive mindset. Chronic pain is what is still occurring after the six-month recovery period. This is where utilizing the skills of acceptance and mindfulness are helpful towards restoring balance or finding what balance can look like within pain management. Life with chronic pain can be debilitating and cause much discomfort. Establishing a therapeutic rapport within psychotherapy can help to provide compassion, empathy, and encouragement for the individual to want to see and feel hope for a positive quality of life.
Another avenue that psychotherapy can provide is a way to incorporate an interdisciplinary team to educate on the multitude of approaches one can take on for pain management. A bio-psycho-social model for chronic pain can encourage an individual to focus on alternative treatment approaches that ensure the focus on a better quality of life. It is important for the individual to note that pain directly causes distress and through alternative treatment the goal is to combat the distress from turning into a disability. Having an interdisciplinary team can aid in collaborative care, the psychotherapist can provide guidance towards how the individual’s mood and mindset are affecting their ability to cope with pain.

Chronic pain is frustrating and debilitating and it can seem impossible to find optimism about one’s life which is why is it important to discuss within psychotherapy. Ideally to work toward finding true acceptance of life with pain and instilling optimism that one’s quality of life is hopeful.

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