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Diminish Discomfort with Pain Psychology

When people think of pain management, they often think of pain pills; however, there are many other treatments available. One of those options is pain psychology. Sarah K. Buday, PhD, provides valuable insight into what pain psychology is and how it can improve a patient’s pain.

What is pain psychology?

Pain psychology is the understanding that pain is a personal experience made up of physical, emotional, and mental components. We know from neuroscience research that how we think and the emotions we experience impact our pain. Our perception of pain involves our background and our prior experiences; therefore, pain perception can be different for every individual. With this broader understanding, we have more options available for treatment.

What types of services does a pain psychologist provide?

We provide consultation, evaluation, and treatment. These can be targeted at a wide variety of experiences associated with chronic pain, such as the pain itself, changes in mood, relationships, and identity.

What are some different treatments used?

Work can be done individually, in a group, or with a significant other or family member. Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), mindfulness, and hypnosis are among the proven therapies used. Pain and neuroscience education, mental strategies, relaxation approaches, activity pacing, increases in values-based behavior, shifting how attention is used, and self-hypnosis are all pieces of these interventions.

How does a person’s mental state play a role in their experience of pain?

Pain is an individual experience that is influenced by many factors. Stress and physical tension are an example of how one’s mental state may increase pain experienced. All negative emotions and distress have the potential to increase sympathetic nervous system activity (the “fight/flight/freeze response”), which can increase the experience of pain. Pain isn’t all “in your head”; however, what happens in our minds does influence how we feel physically.

On the other hand, how does a person’s pain play a role in their mental state?

The meaning of the pain to an individual is very important. How did the pain begin? Do they feel supported by their loved ones and by their providers? How has the pain impacted their ability to work, to engage in leisure activities, to take care of themselves, and their homes and their relationships? For many people, pain is an experience that can be very disruptive and alter their sense of identity. From this, increases in depression and anxiety are quite common.

What do you want readers to know about pain and pain psychology?

Chronic pain is a complex and individualized experience and is often not something that is straightforward to manage. Having a team of providers that includes your pain management physician, physical therapist, and a pain psychologist, all working together with you, increases positive outcomes. Pain psychology is an important piece of treatment with a strong body of research behind it.

Dr. Buday and our other pain psychologists offer in-person and virtual visits. For more information or to make an appointment, visit the Pain Management page or call: (314) 747-0202.