| One-Minute Clinician

Pain Psychology—What’s in the Toolbox?

We don’t have a cure or a fix for chronic pain. It’s very similar to any chronic health condition for which we don’t have a cure. Diabetes, asthma, heart disease—we don’t have a pill or an injection that will make these things go away. So helping a person learn how to live with these conditions and maximize quality of life is a large part of where psychology fits in, and there are multiple tools that psychologists have to try to help patients learn how to accomplish this. Many times, people perceive that we just mean cognitive behavioral interventions, but there’s actually a wider range of evidence-based interventions available. Biofeedback training, mindfulness based stress reduction, acceptance and commitment therapy—all of these have been demonstrated to help in pain management. Everything that we do—all of the emotions that we have, the behaviors that we engage in, the physiological reactivity that we have—is influenced by the thought processes that we have. And while we can’t control the situations that we find ourselves in, we can change how we perceive those things. And so, changing the thought processes can go a long way in terms of changing our emotional, physical, and behavioral outcomes. It’s not mind over matter; you can’t will away pain or think away pain, but by changing the thought appraisal, it can certainly change what that overall experience of pain is like.