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People often think of pain as a purely physical sensation. However, pain has biological, psychological and emotional factors.

Pain sufferers often seek care from different types of health providers, many of whom specialize in the management of chronic pain. However, pain psychologists specialize in teaching patients how to self-manage and cope emotionally with pain.

There are several psychological symptoms associated with pain. A person experiencing chronic pain is likely to be depressed, mainly because of the changes that have occurred in their life as a result of the pain. There is likely to be the development of a vicious pain cycle: the extended period of pain usually results in a decrease in activity level. As the person becomes less active and less functional, they are likely to have an increase in anxiety, tension, stress, and eventually depression. That, over time, will lead to an increase in muscle tension, poor coping ability, decreased sleep, increased use of pain medications and excess reliance on the health care system. That, in turn, can result in a elevated pain levels and a further downward slide. Psychological symptoms occur as a result of the pain, while others may have been in existence prior to the development of the pain. For long-term improvement to occur and to break a vicious cycle of even more pain, the psychological symptoms need to be addressed head-on.

A qualified Psychologist can help improve daily function by working to lower pain perception and mental distress, and help develop individualized coping strategies often resulting in less medication and medical visits. The psychologist’ s role is basically twofold: to identify and treat psycho-social factors which can contribute to the pain; that is, factors that can result in an increase in the pain, and to help identify and implement a reasonable set of treatment goals.

They can help you learn relaxation techniques, such as meditation or breathing exercises to keep stress levels under control. In addition to learning pain management skills, treatment often involves goal setting, problem solving, and overcoming barriers to help you have a better quality of life.

Learning how to calm one’s own nervous system is a critical aspect of pain management. It’s vitally important to learn and use skills to control the cognitive, emotional and physiological factors that amplify pain. This should be part of an overall, comprehensive pain care plan that includes pain psychology, self-management, movement therapy or appropriate exercise, and other disciplines. The mind has a tremendous influence on the experience of pain. Studies show that focusing on pain or ruminating on it can cause it to worsen.

During an evaluation a pain psychologist will assess for the factors in a person’s life that may be serving to worsen the pain, distress, and suffering. There are various objective psychological test measures that can be used to evaluate the stressors, and the psychologist will select an appropriate test battery to address your specific needs. A good psychologist is like a “pain coach.”  They will encourage you to set goals for yourself, they can help you develop a behavior plan, and they can teach you important coping tools that will empower you to best manage pain and stress. This is empowered pain management!

Psychology found its place in pain treatments after the growing recognition that the extent of complaint and disability reported by many patients could not be explained by the extent of damage or disease. Pain psychologists typically have a PhD in clinical psychology and have completed an APA-accredited postdoctoral fellowship that specializes in chronic pain. Pain psychologists may have a private practice or work as part of a multidisciplinary pain treatment team within an academic pain clinic, private pain clinic, in a hospital rehabilitation setting, or in an outpatient chronic pain functional restoration program.

The main goal is to help you live your life fully, despite the pain. Link to American Psychological Association pain easing therapies: http://www.apa.org/monitor/2015/11/cover-pain.aspx

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