Subscription is FREE for qualified healthcare professionals in the US.

Surviving a Loved One's Chronic Pain

Editor’s note: The following article is suggested as a handout to your patients’ families or loved ones to help them understand what patients are going through and encourage them to communicate with them and provide support. This article is available online (at ) as a printer-ready PDF to allow free unlimited printing of handouts.

This handout was inspired by a patient of mine who came into my office and inquired what resources were available for the family members of patients with pain to help them understand what their loved ones were going through. He discussed how his wife was frequently angry at him for not doing more physically at home while she was at work and how she often yelled at him. He felt guilty about it, but felt he did as much as he could tolerate. I was embarrassed to admit that I did not know of any handouts explicitly directed at spouses, family members, and other loved ones. After doing some research on the Internet, I discovered several very helpful publications, specifically Julie Silver’s 2004 book, Chronic Pain and the Family: A New Guide (Harvard University Press) and the American Chronic Pain Association family manual, ACPA Family Manual: A Manual for Families of Persons with Pain, written by Penny Cowen (ACPA, 1998). I also found some helpful articles by Mark Grant, a psychologist in Australia, especially his “Ten Tips for Communicating With a Person Suffering From Chronic Pain,” which is available on his website, Mark was kind enough to allow us to summarize his suggestions here. As well, one of us (Whitman) has a website to help patients cope with chronic pain, and occasionally discusses family issues on it ( Much of what is in this handout is taken from these sources.

What was striking, however, is how little material there was oriented toward the family compared to the massive amount of self-help material oriented to the patient with pain. In view of the profound effect the patient’s pain has on the family and the equally profound effect the family’s (and friends’) responses have on the patient with pain, I found this troubling. I also felt that while Silver’s book and the ACPA manual were very helpful, few family members would get them and fewer read through them. What was needed, I felt, was something brief and to the point. This is the result of that determination.

In putting this together, I would like to acknowledge the assistance of a number of people. First, I would like to thank Brenda Byrne, PhD and Judith Berman, MA, my colleagues at Margolis Berman Byrne Health Psychology in Philadelphia, for reading my initial manuscript over and making suggestions. Brenda especially was very patient in helping me revise question number 5, “How Should I Respond to My Loved One When (S)he’s in Pain?” Thanks also are due to the members of the Pain Study Group in Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia. I especially want to thank Sarah Whitman, MD for organizing the group and for disseminating this handout to the members, as well as for her feedback and oversight for the section on medication, and Rebecca Tendler, for stressing the importance of having the section on medication co-authored by a physician with expertise in pain management. I would also like to thank neurologist Dr. Steve Rosen who generously contributed suggestions for section 12.

- David Kannerstein

Please refer to the Jan/Feb 2007 issue for the complete text. In the event you need to order a back issue, please click here.

Last updated on: February 22, 2011
First published on: January 1, 2007