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Pain Psychology: Why Seek Psychological Counseling for Chronic Pain?

Posted Aug 10 2011 12:00am

Guest post by Marie Westerhof

As a pain psychology MN specialist, Peg Maude-Griffin of Twin Cities Pain Clinic sees many chronic pain sufferers who find themselves with problems that go deeper than physical pain.
Constant and uncontrollable pain can wreak psychological havoc on patients, and without coping mechanisms to help disconnect emotionally from chronic pain susceptible individuals can suffer a range of psychological issues – including depression, feelings of helplessness, loss of interest, chronic fatigue, sleep disturbance, and more.
“When providers ask patients to consult with a psychologist they may feel they’re being told ‘it’s all in their head,’” says Maude-Griffin, who has worked at the San Francisco Veteran’s Affairs Center and taught at USC-San Francisco. “It’s not. Pain has a medical or organic cause, but the longer the pain endures, the more likely it is to negatively impact patients’ sense of well-being and their relationships with others.” 
Who Might Need Pain Counseling?Others may be under the misconception that pain patients only run into psychological problems if their pain is caused by a traumatic event, such as a car accident or a dangerous fall. However, feelings of depression and helplessness are rooted in the actual pain and not the cause of it. Psychologits see a great number of patients with natural conditions like arthritis and non-traumatic injuries like athletic injuries needing counseling to deal with the ill effects of their pain.
What Kinds of Psychological Problems do Pain Patients Experience?Chronic pain patients who need psychological counseling tend to have problems coping with their pain and learning to live with it rather than allowing it to control their life. They may experience depression and feelings of helplessness in thinking that their pain is incurable. The depression may also cause them to lose interest in things they once loved, lose energy, and have feelings of worthlessness due to their inability to function the way they once did. Patients may also be frustrated or have uncontrollable anger over their chronic pain, and conditions like fatigue and sleep disturbance are also not uncommon.
Chronic pain patients can also experience a condition called muscular bracing wherein the patient maintains his or her body in a rigid position in an effort to avoid further pain or injury to the sensitive area. This causes extreme muscular tightness and should be treated with physical therapy (and perhaps medication). The psychological fear of pain that develops and is reinforced by this behavior teaches the patient’s body to develop a “muscle memory” of this posture and can cause both physical and psychological discomfort.
Finding a Qualified TherapistThe easiest way to find a therapist qualified to treat psychological problems surrounding chronic pain is by asking your pain clinic for a referral. Many clinics, like physical therapy Edina practice Twin Cities Pain Clinic, even keep a pain psychologist on staff to treat patients in-house. It’s important for patients having difficulty with the effects of their chronic pain to have an understanding of their issues and develop healthy ways of coping with their problem.
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