Therapeutic Neuroscience Education: The Value of Patient Understanding

Author: Kathryn Schopmeyer

Michael Schatman, PhD, CPE, DASPE

Therapeutic neuroscience education is helping patients to understand chronic pain from a neurophysiology perspective. It teaches patients very basic things about the physiology of our nervous system, how the brain gets involved in producing pain, and helps people to understand exactly what changes at a nervous system and cellular level when we experience chronic pain. When clinicians successfully educate their patients about pain from a neurophysiology perspective and when patients truly understand it, actually this is measurable. Patients’ depression scores go down, their function improves, fear avoidance measures improve. They are more willing to engage in therapies. They’re more active in their own approach to self-management.

To teach the neuroscience of pain, it’s helpful to speak in very specific terms about how the nervous system operates. Discuss nociception, peripheral sensitization, central sensitization. Help your patient understand how our nervous system adapts and responds to the stimuli in the environment, and also how cognitions and emotions, memories or thoughts play into effects through our nervous system. Historically, working in an interdisciplinary team setting is the most effective approach to using therapeutic neuroscience education. When you have multiple people saying the same thing, the validation is stronger, patient buy-in is much stronger, and we really see that people engage in a different way, in a more meaningful way, in any therapeutic approach that the team then suggests.

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