Coping with Chronic Pain

woman dealing with chronic painChronic pain, lasting six months or more, is experienced by approximately 30% of the U.S. population (Bonica, 1990).  Those who suffer from chronic pain often go about their daily lives doing everything possible to keep pain at a minimum, while still attempting to maintain some quality of life.  All pain is distracting and disturbing; however, when experienced on a constant basis, these characteristics can become intolerable.  This stress may lead to an increase in physical disability and emotional agitation.  Often the person suffering is willing to spend great amounts of time and energy into treatments designed to reduce or eliminate the experience of chronic pain (e.g., medication, surgery, etc.)

People who suffer from chronic pain are often additionally affected by symptoms of depression, emotional distress, and anxiety which can significantly increase their perception and intensity of the pain.  Increased perception of pain can cause emotional reactions, for example, anger, fear, sadness or despair.

Additionally, chronic pain has social consequences, such as, loss of work, withdrawal from normal daily activities, family conflicts, etc. Often those suffering experience feelings of betrayal and loss of belief in their body’s ability to function efficiently.  Due to inability to work, their self-esteem becomes affected and they may become physically inactive due to fear of pain.  This becomes a vicious circle that can lead to depressive reactions, which in turn influences the perception of and reactions to the pain.  For example, depression can lead to more physical passivity, which leads to more feelings of depression, which increases the perception of pain etc.

Incorporating psychological counseling into ones medical treatment has been shown to increase the effectiveness of medical treatment.  Some of the benefits of psychological treatment of pain include increasing/ improving pain coping resources, self management of pain and quality of life, and decreasing/ reducing emotional distress, depression, and anxiety.  The aim is not complete freedom from pain, but with the support of psychological counseling it is possible to develop an improved quality of life and increased ability to cope with the pain.