Erin Bellamy, LPC
Psychotherapy for CHRONIC PAIN?
Updated: May 3, 2019
If you're one of 50 million Americans living with chronic pain, you may not know that pain has an emotional component. Read on to discover how therapy can help.
James was a general contractor, and he loved his work. He began working for his father’s company in high school, and he eventually worked his way up a supervisory position. James took pride in the fact that, even though he was a supervisor, he still liked to “get his hands dirty” and work with his crew. One afternoon, James was working on a roof when he lost his footing. He tumbled down the roof and landed on the ground, shattering his left leg in the process. Multiple surgeries later, James could barely walk and had to wear a painful brace every day. His pain seemed to get worse instead of better, but doctors told him he had “healed” and there was nothing more they could do. It seemed to James that in that fateful moment on the roof, he lost his mobility, the work he loved, and his sense of identity.
If you’re one of 50 million Americans living with chronic pain, you may relate to James’s story. You may have been injured at work and can no longer do the job you once loved. You may have experienced a devastating accident that changed your life. You may have been told by countless medical professionals that there is nothing more that can be done for you.
If you are living with pain, THERE IS HOPE.
Pain is defined as an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage, or described in terms of such damage (International Association for the Study of Pain). Remember this definition – it’s important!
There are two types of pain, acute and chronic. Acute pain occurs immediately after an injury. It is an alarm that requests immediate attention and alerts you to damage. The treatment for acute pain is straightforward. If you break your arm, the doctor puts you in a cast until the bone is healed. Chronic pain is different. Chronic pain is persistent and lasts long after the initial injury. It is usually defined as pain lasting more than 3 months. Chronic pain does not have to be related to an injury. It can include lower back pain, headache pain, arthritis, fibromyalgia, and other pain related to an ongoing medical condition.
Pain is defined as an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage, or described in terms of such damage (International Association for the Study of Pain).
How can counseling help?
Remember that definition of pain earlier? It is a “sensory and emotional experience.” Yes, there is an emotional component to pain. In fact, the thoughts you have about your pain have a big impact on the way you experience it. For example, if you tell yourself, “This is unbearable, I’ll never survive this,” you are likely to feel scared, hopeless, and powerless. By contrast, if you tell yourself, “I’m uncomfortable today, but I’ve handled worse than this,” you may feel a bit better and empowered to face whatever is in front of you.
In counseling, we work to change the thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors you have surrounding your pain. Changing the way you think about your pain can change your overall experience. A quote from Japanese author Haruki Murakami sums this up nicely: “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.”
I work with people to target their unhelpful pain-related thoughts, beliefs, and self-statements. I also help people identify positive activities to add into their lives, develop healthier sleep routines, and practice relaxation techniques designed to “turn down the volume” on their pain.
If you feel like your pain has taken over your life, I encourage you to talk to a therapist who specializes in the treatment of chronic pain.
You have more power over pain than you think!