Chronic pain is not well understood, especially its mental and emotional facets. That’s why pain psychology as a psychological specialty is so beneficial. Pain psychologists are PhD level clinical psychologists who have completed an APA-accredited post-doctoral fellowship in chronic pain.
According to a report by the CDC, approximately 50 million Americans (just over 20 percent of the adult population) are living with chronic pain and of those 20 million suffer from “high-impact” pain, pain so severe that it interferes and limits life and work.
What Pain Psychologists Do
Pain psychologists work with a number of coping skills such as mindfulness, experiential therapy, exposure therapy and expressive therapy to help people living with pain deal with their condition. Working through grief – -the experience of losing one’s able-bodied-self — is an important part of the pain therapy journey. Some people in chronic pain are also dealing with depression, PTSD or anxiety.
Another aspect of pain psychologist therapy is teaching patients to listen to their bodies. Part of this listening is learning to pace oneself in order to have the energy to do those things that matter most.
Along with working with pain patients, some pain psychologists work with families and couples to help them understand pain and to realize that pain is not a choice.
Another issue that people with chronic pain face is having an invisible disability. They look fine but are in fact not fine. Unfortunately, people with pain and invisible disorders constantly face not being believed by others, including medical professionals. A first step in the process of dealing with pain may be dealing with the frustration of not being believed.
Pain Psychologists Need to Believe You
If you are considering going to a pain psychologist, at your initial appointment determine if that therapist believes that your pain is real. If the psychologist suggests a “conversion disorder” as the reason for your pain, take your business elsewhere. However, a pain psychologist who believes and does not dismiss your pain can be a valuable resource in dealing with the emotional suffering that comes along with the physical suffering that people in chronic pain endure.
Have you had experience working with a pain psychologist? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.