How Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Can Treat Pain
Can mind-power reduce power chronic pain has over you? Experts say it can and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is among the best keys to do it.
What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)?
The National Association of Cognitive Behavioral Therapists defines CBT as "a form of psychotherapy that emphasizes the important role of thinking in how we feel and what we do." Cognitive Behavioral terapists work on the belief that people create their own experiences by the way they think and that changing their thoughts will lead to better experiences.
Pain is a complex physical and emotional reaction to unpleasant stimulation. When an individual is in chronic pain due to disease, injury, surgery, or some other reason, he develops emotional responses like anxiety, negative anticipation, stress, fatigue, and depression, all of which can amplify pain. When patients learn CBT, however, they learn specific skills and techniques that help them recognize their emotional triggers, thought process, and reactions and change them to reframe their pain experience.
According to a study published by the American Academy of Neurology, CBT can be especially helpful to treat patients diagnosed with chronic pain of unknown origin. Their pain is absolutely real, but the cause of their pain is not identifiable. Study authors say patients with unexplained pain, dizziness, and weakness make up one-third of all patients seen in doctors' offices. The AAN research found that when patients received CBT either alone or with other pain therapies, they reported greater improvement than if they received only their usual pain treatments.
While many studies have shown that CBT can reduce pain, many patients are reluctant to use this therapy because they don't think their pain is caused by psychological factors. And in fact, they might be right. CBT doesn't attempt to explain away their pain as being all in their head, but instead, teaches them new ways of dealing with it. By better understanding their pain and learning new ways to think about and respond to it, patients are better prepared to accept their symptoms and the role of pain in their life.
How It Works
CBT takes many different forms but all involve identifying pain-related thought processes, problem solving techniques, relaxation techniques, coping skills, and support to apply do-it-yourself therapeutic skills to your own life. For example, if a patient with chronic migraines becomes anxious, anticipates crippling pain, and feels helpless at the first signs of a migraine, her emotional response might increase her pain experience. If instead, she uses CBT skills to identify how she's thinking about her pain, reframe her thinking, and help reduce her pain, studies show, her pain experience will diminish.
That's the power of the mind. If you think something is going to be horrible, then it probably will be. If you think, however, it will be manageable (even if you can't eliminate the pain) and you have the power and skills to deal with it, studies show, you'll probably be right.
Ask your doctor if CBT might work for you and how to find a good therapist in your area. Then, start making the mind-body connection to improve your chronic pain and put the power back in your own hands.
National Association of Cognitive Behavioral Therapists
American Academy of Neurology, 2011, July 27 Online edition Neurology®
New therapy may help people with unexplained symptoms of pain, weakness and fatigue.
Sign Up for Free Newsletters
Ask Your Doctor the RIGHT Questions!
the most from your doctor visit.
Emailed right to you!
The Ask Your Doctor email series
may contain sponsored content.
18+, US residents only please.
Explore Original Articles About...
Get the MOST from QualityHealth
- Top Searches
- 1. Arthritis Management: Nature Heals
- 2. 5 Digestive To-Dos
- 3. Men: Should You Shave It or Leave It?
- 4. Today's Top Fitness Trends
- 5. Sugar and Osteoarthritis : The Link
- 6. Can't Afford Your Hospital Bills?
- 7. Stay Energized All Day Long
- 8. Phobias: Who Has Them and Why?
- 9. What If Your EpiPen Fails?
- 10. 5 Costly Medical Billing Mistakes
- 1. Ice Falls Can Cause Serious Injuries
- 2. Can Inactivity Act Like a Disease?
- 3. Kale Snack Recipe for Diabetics
- 4. How Running Affects Arthritis
- 5. Sugar and Your Immunity System
- 6. Do Weight Loss Supplements Work?
- 7. 5 Super Foods for Spring
- 8. The Hazards of Reusable Bags
- 9. How to Avoid Ingrown Hairs
- 10. Health Tip: Constantly Change Shoes
- 1. 4 Common Treatments for Epilepsy
- 2. What Does a Urogynecologist Do?
- 3. GERD Without Heartburn? It's Possible
- 4. Graston Technique: Can It Work on You?
- 5. Music Therapy Can Help Autism
- 6. 8 Ways to Fight MS-Related Fatigue
- 7. Can You Still Bleed After Menopause?
- 8. Be Your Own Health Care Advocate
- 9. Why Is Syphillis on the Rise?
- 10. Ideal Weight vs. Happy Weight
The material on the QualityHealth Web site is for informational purposes only, and is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment provided by a physician or other qualified health provider. See additional information.