Chronic Pain Support Group


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Psychology of Pain

Psychologists are important members of a pain management team. His or her purpose is not to prove that someone's pain is “all in the mind.” Rather it is to help people in pain to build good coping skills so that they can enjoy a good quality of life despite their pain, and often reduce their pain by becoming fitter, happier and more active.

Not everybody needs this type of pain management, but its good to know it’s there if we do!

Psychologists are health professionals who specialise in studying thoughts, feelings and behaviour. How can this expertise be of help to someone with a chronic pain condition?After all, pain is a physical problem, isn’t it? Well ... Yes and no.


The sensation of pain is physical, but how we respond to it is related to what we think about the pain, how we feel about it and what we do to manage it. For example, most people with chronic pain will recognise that they have good days and bad days. What is the difference? It may of course be related to the amount of activity you have been doing, but it may also be because of how you were thinking and feeling on each separate day. Perhaps one one day you were home alone, having told your friends you couldn't meet them for coffee, feeling isolated and miserable, thinking about the future and how you might cope, maybe feeling frustrated  about pain preventing you doing some of the the things you used to enjoy. In the second case you may have also been home alone, but engrossed in an activity you enjoy, perhaps reading a book or playing with your children or grandchildren. These examples show how thoughts can seemingly ‘increase’ pain as you focus on it and its impact, as well as ‘reduce’ pain when your attention is directed away from it.

Another important factor is the effect longstanding pain can have on feelings and quality of life. It is quite common for people in pain to become depressed or anxious over time, and to miss out on life's daily pleasures. Psychologists can help people with chronic pain to learn to manage pain and improve their quality of life, without necessarily changing the pain itself.


Reproduced on this website with permission from Kate MacIver, Research Associate, Pain Research Institute, Liverpool. Dr. Helen Poole, Senior Lecturer in Psychology, Liverpool, John Moore’s University.

Please do not copy without permission from the above authors..

Management of chronic pain - how can psychology help?