Mental Health Care for Chronic Pain: How to Make It Part of Your Treatment Plan

How psychiatrists, psychologists, and counselors work together to help reduce chronic pain

Effectively treating chronic pain requires a multidisciplinary team. Psychiatrists, psychologists, and counselors represent a critical component of this group, along with physical therapists, occupational therapists, and social workers. 

Mental health professionals address the underlying neurobiological changes that accompany chronic pain, as well as the social and emotional challenges. Working with these experts, you’ll learn to reduce and manage your chronic pain and regain control of your life.

Pharmaceutical Therapy

Depression, anxiety, and chronic pain are intertwined on a biological, neurological, and emotional level. In the body, pain reception and mood regulation both rely on the central nervous system. Nerves distorted by chronic pain amplify pain sensation and lower mood.

Even if you’ve never experienced depression or anxiety before, chronic pain can induce these maladies. Approximately one-third to three-quarters of people with chronic pain experience moderate to severe depression. Symptoms of depression may include:

  • fatigue
  • anxiety
  • changes in mood, appetite, and sleep.

Suffers often withdraw from their lives, which may lead to damaged relationships, loss of employment, and foster a negative outlook. Depression and anxiety, brought on by these events, increase pain, perpetuating this vicious cycle.

Antidepressant and anti-anxiety medications can help interrupt this agonizing sequence, provide significant pain relief, elevate mood, and reduce anxiety. Work with a psychiatrist who has experience treating chronic pain with these pharmaceutical combinations.

Behavioral Therapies

Whether you’ve lived with chronic pain for a few months or many years, it’s not easy to change habits and thought patterns shaped by pain. Suffers can learn powerful mental strategies that help diminish pain perception, change negative thinking, and improve life.

Helpful actions include engaging in problem solving, avoiding isolating behaviors, utilizing relaxation techniques, embracing physical therapy, and working with a counselor to help reframe an illness.

•    Cognitive Behavior Therapy: An experienced counselor can help you break harmful thinking patterns. For example, some individuals believe, “My pain doesn’t allow me to do what I once enjoyed, so I have nothing to offer.”  This depressive self-talk can intensify your pain because you feel as though your life is controlled by your illness.  Through cognitive behavior therapy, you can learn to interrupt negative thinking, identify your strengths, and focus on the positive aspects of life. This will help lessen pain.

•    Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is a distinctive form of mental health therapy that relies on recognition and mindfulness strategies as well as commitment and behavior change approaches to foster a greater psychological flexibility. The basic idea of ACT is to shift one’s primary focus from reducing or eliminating pain to fully engaging their lives. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy aims to change how to relate to internal experiences, and ultimately is about living life better.

Stress Reduction Therapies

Consistent pain, or a pain surge, can initiate a stress response. Our bodies react to stress with specific symptoms such as muscle tension, elevated heart rate, sweating, and quicker breathing. Unfortunately, these reactions increase pain. Thankfully, you can learn techniques that combat your physical response to stress. 

•    Biofeedback: Biofeedback can help you take control of your body and minimize a stress response.  It involves working with a trained psychologist who uses non-invasive machines to measure your bodies’ physical reaction to stress. These machines provide a visual display of vital signs such as heart rate, body temperature, and brain activity. As you learn to purposefully relax during a stress response, you’ll see your vital signs return to normal. With practice, you’ll be able to relax your body without biofeedback equipment.

•    Relaxation Therapy: There are several practices that help your body relax such as meditation, listening to calm music, and guided imagery. When engaging in these activities muscle tension lessens, blood flow increases, and toxic stress chemicals subside. These actions also decrease anxiety, elevate mood, and ease pain. An experienced counselor, psychologist, or relaxation specialist can help you discover what practices work best for you.

Individuals who take proactive steps toward managing their pain often find relief regardless of the root cause. However, fighting this complex illness can seem daunting because of the debilitating effects of depression, pain, and anxiety.

But, there is hope. Reach out for help. Work with an experienced psychiatrist, psychologist, and counselor to manage your illness, reduce your pain, and rebuild your life.  

Updated on: 10/20/21
Continue Reading:
CBT and ACT Therapy for Chronic Pain: How Does Psychotherapy Help?