Why is psychology so important in pain management?

Often patients are concerned or confused when their health professional suggests they see a psychologist to manage a physical pain problem. But seeing a psychologist is a normal and important part of managing pain, and can often help people make sense of what they are experiencing. Some people see a psychologist only once or twice, some more frequently over a longer period of time, and some start by getting advice, then taking a break and coming back later on when they feel ready to work on things in a different way. It’s different for everyone.

Psychology has been an integral part of pain management for many years now. In fact, Pain Medicine recognises the very real benefits of psychological assessment and intervention, particularly in relation to managing chronic or persistent pain. Chronic pelvic pain is no different; a psychologist can be a good addition to your pain management team.

So what do psychologists do in this area? Good question! Many people think of psychologists as helping people manage conditions like depression or anxiety, but there is so much more to the field of psychology than this, and psychologists are now recognised as necessary members of health care teams in chronic disease management. Sometimes the focus will definitely be on issues like depression, anxiety or stress because we know these are things that people with pain may experience. Like other chronic health issues, pain often brings about secondary issues or exacerbates pre-existing problems. This can make the job of coping with pain a lot harder, and psychological support can be effectively used at this time to help you reduce the incidence and intensity of such issues.

But psychologists can and do work with pain in a more direct way too. We often find ourselves providing and reinforcing pain education, helping people to understand the way the body and brain works with this thing called pain, as well as explaining the rationale for a multi-modal approach to pain management. We teach a range of coping strategies, and help patients modify their behaviour and reactions to pain so as to make it easier to get on with life. We understand that pain can interfere in someone’s life in many ways, and helping people learn to have a different relationship to pain can reduce the overall impact it has on functioning and happiness, not to mention the benefits in allowing the brain and nervous system to calm down and make the changes and adjustments required to alter the pain experience.

It’s important to remember that your doctor is recommending you see a psychologist because there is so much we can do to help you cope. It’s not that they don’t believe you, or they think you’re making it up. They simply want you to have the most comprehensive team around you, and give yourself every chance to overcome the problem.

Keep an eye out for our future articles on specific topics, and check out the links below to other sites that might be of help. And if you feel you could benefit from seeing a psychologist to help you manage pelvic pain, speak to your doctor about your options and ask for a referral.

Links:

Australian Pain Society www.apsoc.org.au – see the position paper ‘The Role of the Psychologist in the Management of Persistent Pain’

ACI Pain Management Network www.aci.health.nsw.gov.au

Australian Psychological Society www.psychology.org.au

Australian Pain Management Association www.painmanagement.org.au

6 April, 2017

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