Cutting Edge Psychology

Psychological treatment for pain research

Posted on March 25, 2014 at 10:40 PM

With between 1/3 and 1/5 Australians and 1/3 Americans experiencing chronic pain, it can be rightly referred to as a problem in epidemic proportions. The following link is to a webpage in which Ken Pope cites 39 different studies reported in peer reviewed medical and psychology journal articles in 2013/2014 which demonstrate the effectiveness of psychology in treating pain issues. Reading the list and brief descriptions of the interventions, it is clear that the research is covering a range of psychological interventions which appear to be effective. The only way this is possible, for psychological interventions to successfully treat physical pain, is if physical pain has a large psychological component. This is NOT, however, to say that the pain is all in one's head! The pain is nearly always entirely real, and felt in the sore part of the body. But the mind/brain always has a role to play in the perception of pain, even if we do something as physical as stand on a nail. Our emotions, perceptions of the circumstance, perceptions of our self, and a range of psychological factors which we have no conscious awareness of all play a role in allowing our brain to wind up with the conclusion that pain is the appropriate thing for us to be feeling. Chronic pain is when the pain has become entrenched, over at least a 3 month period- the time which the body takes to repair most forms of damage. When it has become entrenched, there is an even greater role for psychological factors, such as fear, anxiety, grief, hopelessness, anger etc, to feed into the experience and thereby maintain and exacerbate the pain.

Unlike the treatment of acute pain (short term, usually resulting from an injury), most physical interventions for chronic pain have no proven track record of treating it, beyond the temporary relief which it can offer. Intervening on the psychological component provides a way forward for many people suffering chronic pain.

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