Chronic Pain Management with Cognitive Therapy and Hypnosis
Harnessing the power of the mind to relieve the distress of the body
When you get injured or have surgery, you expect to hurt for a while, but you know that in time, you’ll heal and the pain will leave. You recognize discomfort as a symptom but trust that treatment and time will help. While you wait for your body to mend, medication and physical therapy provide relief. Chronic pain is another story. Chronic pain is persistent pain that often has outlived its usefulness. Whether it’s the burning, shooting leg pain associated with sciatica or the aching, stiffness and soreness associated with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, chronic pain is unrelenting and unremitting.
Sometimes, it’s an aftereffect of an injury that appears to have healed. In some cases, chronic pain seems to develop out of the blue, with no discernable injury or tissue damage. Pain may also result from a number of non-medical causes. For instance, sometimes repressed anger and anxiety may manifest themselves in physical symptoms of pain. Over time, physical pain takes an emotional toll, making the body hurt even more. Anxiety about the condition magnifies unpleasant sensations and the result is a vicious cycle. Fear, anxiety, isolation, depression, feelings of helplessness and hopelessness can be the hallmarks of living with chronic pain. But chronic pain doesn’t have to rule your life. It has been said that pain may be mandatory, but suffering is optional. When considering treatment for chronic pain, both medical and psychological interventions are necessary.
Chronic pain conditions produce enduring psychological effects such as irrational thinking and uncomfortable emotions – in other words, suffering. Pure pain as a pure sensation by itself is not as persistently wrathful, punishing or extremely bothersome as pure pain plus emotional suffering. The pain may take time to heal but the emotional overlay of pain can be transformed with cognitive therapy, group support, and self-hypnosis. Many people with chronic pain frequently become depressed. When their thinking and feelings are chronically negative, they often have urges to indulge in self-defeating or compulsive behaviors such as alcohol abuse, overuse of medication, or addiction to pain killers. Unhappiness caused by chronic pain also effects relationships with others; spouses and families may suffer. Some people may become socially isolated. Others may become increasingly dependent on others to take care of them which may put stress on interpersonal relationships. Couples counseling may be indicated.
Psychotherapy for chronic pain also focuses on dealing with the stressors people living with pain on a daily basis experience: Important factors such as disability insurance, financial stress, loss of work, diminished self-esteem, litigation complications, frustration with workman’s comp, and family stress are important components of the pain picture and treatment is designed to address these and other issues of concern to you.
What can Hypnotherapy do for my pain?
Both sensory pain and unpleasant emotions can be lessened with hypnosis. Reduced awareness of pain means less use of medication, or, in the case of people who choose not to use painkillers, the complete discontinuation of potentially habit-forming and mind-numbing drugs. Hypnotic suggestions can reduce pain by actually retraining the nervous system to prevent the transmission of pain information to the brain. Relaxation is the opposite of discomfort. Hypnotic relaxation techniques ease tension and frequently results in people being less bothered or pre-occupied by pain sensations.
Practicing self-hypnosis puts the person back in charge of his mental experience. It counteracts the tendency to feel victimized and usually helps with depression. Hypnosis can help prepare people for chemotherapy and radiation and often reduces the noxious side effects of cancer treatment. Hypnosis is used extensively to prepare patients for surgery, reducing the need for pre-procedure sedation, excessive anesthetic agents and post operative narcotics.
Practicing hypnosis can reduce emotional anguish and suffering. The emotional part of pain can be reframed to diminish the fear, anger, resentment, and stress often associated with chronic pain. The power of mind can make a tremendous difference in the amount of suffering experienced. What kind of over-all treatment plan is suitable for treating chronic pain? Psychological pain management is a combination of approaches that include cognitive/behavioral therapy to change negative thinking and self-defeating behavior, as well as hypnotherapy to decrease pain symptoms and to change the attitudes and belief systems that may be holding back your recovery. In some cases, longer-term insight-oriented psychotherapy may be necessary. Whichever methods are used, the overall goals for psychological pain management are to help you learn how to understand, predict and manage the pain cycle, how to increase your sense of control or self-efficacy, how to use coping skills to minimize pain, and how to maximize active involvement in positive life experiences in order to rebuild as satisfying a life as possible.
DorothyC. Hayden, LCSW,a licensed clinical social worker, is certified in the psychological management of pain