Cognitive Behavioral Therapy For Pain
What is cognitive behavioral therapy?
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of psychotherapy in which a practical approach to problem-solving is taken. This goal-oriented therapeutic process seeks to identify and modify patterns of behavior and thinking that may be perpetuating difficulties. CBT focuses on beliefs, images, thoughts, and attitudes (cognitive processes) to help the patient recognize how these can change to produce better feelings.
Unlike other forms of therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy is typically short. Patients may work with their therapist for five to ten months for most problems. Sessions occur about once a week, with each lasting about an hour. During therapy sessions, the patient and therapist work together to discuss and understand problems and develop healthy strategies for handling them. The principles learned in CBT can be applied at any time, empowering the patient to integrate new ways of thinking and behaving over time.
What issues can cognitive behavioral therapy treat?
Cognitive behavioral therapy has been used for many years to help people manage emotional and psychological problems such as depression and anxiety. Therapists can also use CBT to address marital problems, mental illness, drug or alcohol dependency, eating disorders, and pain. As studies continue, scientists are learning that cognitive behavioral therapy provides significant benefits in a variety of situations by facilitating:
- Better emotional regulation
- Maximum effects from medication or other therapies
- Coping strategies for stress management
- Conflict resolution within relationships
- Better communication skills
- Coping skills for stress and chronic illness
Studies also indicate that cognitive behavioral therapy reportedly improves quality of life and engagement in daily activities. This therapeutic technique can help improve chronic facial pain or headaches, fibromyalgia, and joint pain.
What are the Benefits of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Pain Management?
Cognitive behavioral therapy seeks to improve several aspects of cognition to achieve long-term results for people living with chronic pain. Therapy works through:
- Encouragement- One of the first aspects of cognition that is addressed with CBT is mindset. When a person lives with persistent pain, it is easy to develop a sense of helplessness, as if nothing can be done to improve the situation. Taking action against pain decreases this learned mindset and gives the patient more of a sense of control.
- Homework- Patients engaged in CBT work with their therapist in weekly sessions and also benefit from doing recommended homework. This may be writing down thoughts and feelings associated with pain so they can be reviewed at the following session.
- Fostering life skills- Cognitive behavioral therapy can be viewed as skills training. Patients learn coping mechanisms that can be used in a variety of situations. Tactics learned for pain management can also help the patient face depression, stress, anxiety, and other experiences.
“I have been seeing Dr Trujillo for more than three years both him and the staff has always been very professional and polite. They really care about me.” –Walt
Who are the ideal candidates for CBT?
Cognitive behavioral therapy can benefit nearly any person who is experiencing acute or chronic pain. Patients achieve the most when they:
Believe in the process. When dealing with pain, many patients are hesitant to talk to a professional. A therapist may think their problem is “all in their head.” This is not the case at Summit Healthcare Pain Clinic. We incorporate CBT into our services because patients need to feel listened to.
Participate actively in their treatment. One of the advantageous aspects of CBT is that it rewards patients for their investment in their healing. Doing homework and being present and involved in weekly sessions is necessary for optimal pain relief.
Complete their program. CBT does not work in one visit. Results come from attending weekly sessions, doing homework, and following the recommended action plan.
Practice. CBT teaches new skills. For these skills to become integrated, they must be practiced. For pain management, skills may include changing thinking and responses to pain. This can be practiced even when pain is absent. The more new skills are practiced, the easier they are to recall when needed.
Have an open mind. Cognitive behavioral therapy is most successful when the patient is open to changing their way of thinking.
How Does Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Help Pain?
The last thing a person wants to hear when their body is aching is “it’s all in your head.” People who live with chronic pain often fear that they will be told this. Chronic pain is very real. Cognitive behavioral therapy does not intend to change this perspective. Therapy acknowledges the reality of pain first and foremost. It then questions and changes the negative thoughts and behaviors that coincide with that pain. Studies have shown that, even when pain stays the same, the coping skills and awareness learned in CBT can change the perception of pain, thereby diminishing its intensity or hold over one’s life.
Cognitive behavioral therapy can also help the pain by changing the physical response in the brain that intensifies pain. When pain arises, stress occurs. When the brain senses stress, the production of serotonin and norepinephrine changes, making the pain more noticeable. The skills learned in CBT reduce the stimulation that affects these chemicals, thereby improving the body’s natural pain relief response.
What Results Should I Expect When Using CBT for Pain Management?
Cognitive behavioral therapy is often prescribed as an adjunct to other forms of pain management, such as massage, physical therapy, and medication. Studies indicate that CBT is often one of the most effective methods of pain management even among these other methods. In control-group studies, CBT nearly always performs as well or better than clinical treatments.
Are there side effects of CBT when used for pain management?
As a nonsurgical, drug-free method of treating pain, cognitive behavioral therapy has very few risks and side effects. Because deep emotional work may be done during weekly sessions, patients may find that they feel more physically and emotionally drained for a day or so after seeing their therapist. Rest and good hydration help the body process emotions more freely, decreasing this sensation of fatigue.
“The staff here are very professional and truly care for the patients.” –L.T.