Put pain in its place:
Psychotherapy for chronic pain

Do you experience physical pain that has disrupted your sleep? Do you find you have difficulty managing the activities of your day-to-day life because of pain? Do you find that problems with physical pain have left you short tempered with the people you love? Have you worried about becoming overly reliant on pain medication, or worried about feelings of depression and/or anxiety that have developed as a consequence of your pain?  Whether it is acute or chronic, pain can derail life in a variety of ways. A team approach to treatment, including your physician, your physical therapist and a psychologist with experience in chronic pain therapy can help you get back on track.

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What pain is, and why it seems to affect people differently:
The experience of pain is highly individual—one person may sail through an injury, while another may find that same injury gets in the way of every aspect of life. For others, pain is a more persistent experience. Nobody knows exactly why people experience pain so differently, but we do know there are strategies that help people whose lives have been overcome by their experience of pain. Many people who find pain sticks around and take over their lives also worry that a referral to a psychologist means their doctor thinks their pain is “all in their head.” Unfortunately, this may make them resist a referral for chronic pain therapy. But when people participate in psychotherapy for chronic pain, they generally discover that addressing the emotional consequences of their pain experience helps them become more resilient in the face of their physical discomfort and get back in charge of their lives.

Psychotherapy for acute pain:
In general, psychologists and physicians who treat pain make a distinction between acute and chronic pain. Acute pain comes with illness or injury, and is expected to resolve as the body heals. Acute pain usually remits within three to 6 months, abating as the injury resolves. Helping patients manage acute pain involves support through the healing process, which can include the development of emotional strategies to manage the challenges of physical recovery. This type of pain therapy is usually brief, but can make a difference in an individual’s ability to integrate recovery strategies and adhere to medical and physical therapy as their body heals from illness or injury.

Psychotherapy for chronic pain:
Chronic pain therapy is somewhat different, because, as any chronic pain sufferer can tell you, their pain does not come with an expected expiration date. The knowledge of this alone can discourage and exhaust the sufferer and can seep into all aspects of life. Sleep can be disrupted by persistent pain. Relationships can struggle as patience frays, and a significant percentage of people who experience chronic pain report that as their pain lingers their resilience to depression and anxiety is lessened.

Treatment for chronic pain, while managed by the primary physician, often includes a psychologist who is skilled in chronic pain therapy. But it is important to know that a referral to a psychologist does not mean your doctor believes your pain is “all in your head.” A referral for chronic pain therapy can help you put the pain in its rightful place and get back to managing your life.

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How I work with chronic pain:
When I see you for chronic pain therapy, you will be working with someone who is on your side and understands the magnitude of what you are dealing with. My goal is not to cure your pain, rather our work together will focus on developing a supportive and compassionate alliance dedicated to helping you better manage a life that includes physical pain. To meet that goal, my chronic pain therapy involves a variety of therapeutic techniques along with some very specific skill building strategies that are evidence based and known to help people put pain in its place

Because depression and anxiety are common side effects of living with pain, our work together will also include a careful evaluation of how you are doing in this regard.  In addition, together we will monitor feelings of hopelessness or anger that so often go along with the experience of chronic body pain. If your pain has caused you to react in these ways, we will address your emotional life at the same time as we help you develop strategies for pain management. If you are not experiencing depression or anxiety, our work will mainly center on the primary goal of helping you develop realistic pain management strategies and new ways of thinking about your body and your life.

You will find our work together to be collaborative and supportive, skill based and practical. You will leave chronic pain therapy appointments with new insights, but also with specific strategies and quite often with homework assignments to help you learn and develop new pain management tools. Over time we will address many things, including learning to relax in your body, learning to strategically manage physical activity levels, and learning the value of changing your way of thinking about your body and its pain.

If you would like to consult with me about pain management therapy, please call me at 503-490-5793.


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