Your pain probably feels far too real to be affected by a change in how you think about it. It may surprise you to learn that although your back or joint pain has very real causes, the way that pain is interpreted by your brain has a large impact on how disruptive it is. That is why so many chronic pain patients are experiencing the benefits of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) as a successful pain management technique.
Cognitive behavioral therapy is a conversational therapy that helps you identify negative responses to pain and develop personalized coping strategies that help mitigate pain effects. This kind of therapy works because of how pain is processed as a sensation. When your sensory nerves send a pain impulse, that pain impulse must travel through gateways where they may be amplified, diminished, or even completely blocked.
Research has shown that pain sensations may come from physical stimuli but are often influenced by various cognitive processes. You have probably noticed that if you are intensely concentrating on a task that pain seems less intense. There are many factors that may affect how intensely pain is felt including:
- Emotional state
- Prior pain episodes
- Cultural background
- Personal history
- Beliefs and values
The way you respond to pain psychologically also produces physiological changes. For example, pain sufferers often respond to pain with stress which lowers norepinephrine and serotonin, key pain response neurochemicals. CBT acts on the cognitive processes that elevate negative physiological responses and mute positive ones.
Benefits of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy is used in conjunction with other pain management techniques like physical therapy or medication. When you start CBT, your therapist will examine your pain history, current pain management techniques and psychological state. This initial evaluation should help determine if you are a viable candidate for cognitive behavioral therapy.
After the assessment, your therapist will design a personalized treatment plan. You should plan for weekly group or one-on-one sessions of one to two hours in length. A typical course of CBT will include 8 to 24 sessions. Your therapist may recommend some refresher sessions from time to time.
During these sessions, you may expect psychoanalysis that will reveal how you respond to pain, as well as more instructional therapies like relaxation techniques and stress management. Although the foundation of this therapy is laid during these therapeutic sessions, much of the actual implementation is conducted on your own. That is why you should enter into CBT with an open mind and a willingness to put into practice your lessons. Cognitive behavioral therapy has been shown to be as effective as other pain management techniques like medication, but only if the patient is engaging wholeheartedly.
There are minimal risks to CBT, so there is little to lose by participating. To get the most out of this therapy you should approach it with a positive attitude, work on perfecting the techniques on your own, and complete the entire course of therapy sessions.
Article written by: Dr. Robert Moghim – CEO/Founder Colorado Pain Care
M.D. Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the personal views of Robert Moghim, M.D. and do not necessarily represent and are not intended to represent the views of the company or its employees.