Chronic pain definition and symptoms

Chronic pain is defined as any pain that lasts longer than six months that is the result of either a physical health condition/injury or mental health condition. Studies show that chronic pain can also be a sign of untreated depression, anxiety, grief, unexpressed anger or being emotionally overwhelmed.

According to the Betty Ford Center, a clinic that focuses on addiction treatment, the markers for identification of those suffering from chronic pain include symptoms of depression, history of abuse (physical/emotional/sexual), high levels of current stress, anxiety and the tendency to catastrophize one’s thoughts. Studies completed by this facility show that trauma that takes place early in life trains the brain to be more receptive to future chronic pain that is typically not treated easily.

Depression and anxiety are extremely common in people suffering from chronic pain as a result of the resulting stress of living with this condition. For most individuals, the recommended treatment is a combination of antidepressants and psychotherapy.  One of the primary benefits of therapy in this situation is the comfort of knowing that you are not alone in this process. Within the therapy setting, the individual is provided reassurance and the ability to express their fears and concerns to a nonjudgmental third party.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) for chronic pain

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is the leading type of therapy in the treatment of cognitive pain. CBT focuses on the automatic thoughts a person is having about his or her pain, as well as the distortions the individual is manifesting. CBT teaches clients to challenge and restructure dysfunctional thoughts in a more realistic and rational way. Ignoring these negative and catastrophic thought patterns can result in physical implications as well as additional psychological anguish.  The awareness about specific thoughts, actions, and behaviors that manifest the pain can allow clients to feel more in control of their pain.

Understanding the impact emotions have can have on pain can be a difficult task for some clients. Both group and individual therapy can have a significant effect on this challenging mission.  Group therapy helps with the sense of loneliness often felt by those who suffer from chronic pain as the tendency for isolation is recurrent.

The goal of therapy in addressing chronic pain is to learn to live with his or her pain, thus leading a happier and more fulfilling life. The focus of therapy is not to cure the pain but rather cope with the pain more effectively. A national survey concluded that 97.1% of those who suffer from chronic pain currently report at least one episode of physical or emotional trauma prior to the chronic pain beginning. Those with this condition often struggle with the potential for their pain to have an emotional foundation. The healing for these traumas can begin in therapy by assisting the patient to understand, accept and forgive the events in their lives that have caused such significant distress.

Other types of treatment for chronic pain include relaxation training, progressive muscle relaxation, electrical stimulation, nerve blocks, acupuncture, physical therapy, hypnosis and implementation of deep breathing techniques.

For more information about my approach to helping with issues like this please see my short video introduction.


* This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Please contact a medical professional for advice.

Sources: Good Therapy, Counseling Today, article from psychiatry journal “psychotherapeutic approaches in the treatment of pain” (2005) chronic pain

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