Kathi Whitten, LCSW - Individual, Couple & Family Psychotherapy
Millions of people in our society live with chronic pain (such as from cancer, headaches, back pain, arthritis, fibromyalgia, and other pain disorders). Pain that occurs and has a short and predictable end (acute pain) is different from conditions that leave people in constant or intermittent pain over long periods of time.

To deal with chronic pain, you must first have a good diagnosis, a medical team that you trust, educate yourself as much as possible about your condition, and understand your treatment plan.  There are many ways to help pain medically, such as pain medications, physical therapy, and sometimes surgical procedures.

However, it is well-known that pain is worsened by emotional stress and bodily tension. When dealing with long-lasting pain, it is helpful to look to lifestyle changes to augment the treatment provided by your medical team. People with pain conditions frequently deal with depression and anxiety, and become discouraged about their future. Ensuring that you have a well-balanced diet, adequate sleep, and exercise at whatever level you are able to manage are essential to handling pain.

It often helps to have talk therapy, especially cognitive therapy, to help  you explore how you understand and react to your pain, and find different ways to manage it.  Additionally there are other skills one can learn, such as meditation, guided imagery, and relaxation techniques that are also proven to help in pain management.

Pain may also present a challenge in interpersonal relationships. People want to help, but don’t always know what to do. Sometimes pain sufferers hesitate to ask for help, fearing they’ll ask too much of others. Some who live with chronic pain feel that others around them forget that it’s genuine and on-going, and become impatient when they are doing the best they can. Resentment and tension can lead to stress, which can exacerbate pain and make its management difficult.

It’s important to feel that you’re comfortable with the treatment plan and medical team, and you’re following recommendations to your best ability. Sometimes patients don’t agree with the treatment advised, or lack the motivation to stick with it, or don’t know how to talk to the doctors with their questions and own ideas.  This is a significant concern if the best possible pain management is going to occur.

Talk therapy, especially cognitive therapy, is effective in helping with pain management, especially when it’s coupled with one or more of the relaxation, meditation, imagery, or stress reduction techniques. Learning to live a full life that doesn’t always focus on pain is optimal for good coping. There are times when family therapy can also be helpful so that everybody works together to achieve positive relationships with healthy support.

Kathi Whitten, LCSW   Copyright 2010