Should I see a psychologist for my pain?

January 8, 2020

psychologist for painPain is the most common reason why people see a physician, according to the American Psychological Association. This is partly because we typically think about pain as purely a physical sensation, but it actually has biological, psychological, and emotional factors.

We know that chronic pain, in particular, can cause feelings of anger, hopelessness, sadness, depression, anxiety, and more. To treat this pain effectively, many times it’s necessary to address all of these issues with a psychologist. While we do not have psychologists on our staff at Southside Pain Management, we are happy to refer you to someone who can help.

Here’s more about the role psychology can plan in pain management.

How psychology can help with pain management

A Psychology Today article says research shows that 33 to 50% of patients with chronic pain report clinically elevated levels of depression or anxiety. What are some reasons for this connection between physical and emotional pain?

  • Pain can limit the ability to maintain family roles as providers, caregivers, parents, and spouses
  • Guilt is a common experience among patients with chronic pain when they feel inadequate as parents, partners, etc.
  • Pain may increase dependence on others, and many patients may feel like they are a burden
  • Pain can create uncertainty about the future
  • Pain can disrupt financial stability and achievement of future goals
  • Pain can harm relationships with family, friends, and work, because patients with chronic pain may become isolated and disconnected from others
  • Pain often steals sources of happiness as a patient’s ability to engage in hobbies, work, and recreational activities may be reduced

The result of all these feelings and changes due to chronic pain often result in stress, anxiety, worry, isolation, depression, and anger. 

Psychology in pain management

Medical treatments, such as medication, surgery, rehabilitation, and physical therapy, are beneficial  and effective in treating chronic pain. But for some patients, it goes further than that. Understanding and managing the thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that accompany the discomfort can help you cope more effectively with your pain — and can actually reduce the intensity of your pain.

Many psychologists have experience helping people cope with the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that accompany chronic pain. They often collaborate with other health care professionals like us to address both the physical and emotional aspects of the patient’s pain.

When seeing a psychologist, you can expect to discuss both your physical and emotional health. The psychologist will ask about the pain you experience, where and when it occurs, and what factors may affect it. If you keep a pain journal, it may be beneficial to take it with you to appointments. In light of all these discussion topics, your psychologist will also likely talk to you about worries and stresses related to your pain.

Treatment programs are as unique as each patient. Your plan may involve learning relaxation techniques, practicing mindfulness meditation, finding new ways to take action, changing old beliefs about pain, building new coping skills, and addressing anxiety or depression that may accompany your pain.

A psychologist can be a great resource in helping you make lifestyle changes that will allow you to continue participating in work and recreational activities. Because pain often contributes to insomnia, a psychologist may also help you learn new ways to sleep better.

One common concern is that when we suggest to patients that they might want to work with a psychologist, they become insulted or threatened. Some may feel that pain psychology is for patients whose pain is “all in their heads.” But this is very much not true. Pain psychology treatments can potentially be useful for every patient with chronic pain. 

We want to use every resource at our disposal — including medication and pain treatment procedures — in conjunction with lifestyle changes and psychology when patients are open to the option. 

Southside Pain Specialists is your one-stop shop for pain management

With a multitude of pain relief options tailored to your specific needs, Southside Pain Specialists follow the standards of the American Society of Interventional Pain Physicians, The American Board of Pain Medicine, and the International Spinal Injection Society. We work hard to provide patients with comprehensive, caring pain relief when they need it most. Check out our website or contact us today at 205.332.3155 to learn more.