By Ted Swing, Ph.D.
Chronic pain can affect people’s lives in many ways. They may stop doing the activities they used to love, spend less time with their friends and family, and experience negative feelings. Unfortunately, these changes can become self-defeating as the lack of activity may make the pain worse or recovery slower. Negative feelings can become pessimism or despair. Conquering pain is not just about getting the right medical treatments — it’s important to develop the skills, attitudes and behaviors that enable recovery from chronic pain. Fortunately, there are resources available that can help chronic pain sufferers achieve better results no matter which medical treatments they are utilizing.
There are different types of individual counseling that can be helpful for patients suffering from chronic pain. For example, cognitive behavioral therapy can help break the cycle of maladaptive thoughts and behaviors that can be mutually reinforcing and self-defeating. Studies support the efficacy of this therapy for a wide variety of people. Many chronic pain sufferers also find biofeedback helpful for reducing stress caused by chronic pain. That stress can then exacerbate the symptoms of a painful condition. By training patients to alleviate their stress, biofeedback helps them better deal with pain as well. These types of individual therapy are available through Arizona Pain Specialists.
Many patients find it helpful to meet regularly with others dealing with chronic pain. These groups can help patients by providing both information and support. For example, Arizona Pain Specialists’ support group meets every Wednesday at 5 p.m. in the lobby of our Scottsdale clinic. Larry Lynch, who leads these meetings, says, “If you have a chronic pain condition, it’s hard to go about daily activities, much less add an extra activity in the evening. But by being socially and physically active, your pain condition will in fact improve with time.” Further, the social support one receives from meeting with others suffering from pain can substantially improve one’s mood.
There are many useful electronic resources for uncovering factual information about pain. For example, Paindoctor.com has information about different pain conditions and possible treatments. Additionally, there are other useful electronic resources that can help educate and train patients to more effectively cope with their pain. Goalistics.com has a blog featuring information on dealing with pain as well as a Chronic Pain Management Program. This program helps patients suffering from chronic pain change the negative feelings and thoughts that many of them may develop. It also helps set goals, such as exercising, that are realistic given the person’s condition.
Some patients wonder why they should focus on issues related to their emotions, thoughts and behaviors. To them, the problem is the pain. But treatments that focus on the body and treatments that focus on thoughts, feelings and behaviors are not mutually exclusive. In fact, research shows the two areas can reinforce each other. Patients who are depressed, anxious or pessimistic tend to have lower rates of success with many different types of medical treatments. On the other hand, patients who develop the right skills, habits and a positive outlook help enable their treatments to conquer their pain.
Ted Swing has more than eight years of research experience and four years of teaching experience in psychology. He has published in top psychology and medical journals, and has presented his research at major conferences. He received his Ph.D. in social psychology from Iowa State University and has been the research director at Arizona Pain Specialists since May 2012.