Does my doctor think that my pain is all in my head?
No! Your doctor knows that your pain is real and very complicated. Regardless of the origin of pain in your body, the pain is recognized and processed in your mind.
What is chronic pain?
Chronic pain is any pain that persists for at least three months in spite of appropriate medical treatment. As you know, pain that persists affects your life in many ways. Others close to you find it difficult to understand how you are suffering and they often offer advice that is not helpful. Relationships get strained and everyone can feel frustrated and helpless. It becomes difficult to be optimistic about the future. Depression is a common by-product of pain, often along with social isolation.
Why a psychologist?
Several reasons. Your pain has likely had a negative impact on many parts of your life. You may feel that those close to you do not understand what you are experiencing, or may be offering advice that is simply not helpful. Many emotional reactions accompany pain, including a feeling of loss of control, helplessness, frustration, anger, tension, and depression to name a few. Unfortunately, these feelings can heighten the intensity of your pain. A clinical psychologist with training in behavioral medicine has the expertise to help you with these feelings as well as to show you how to use your mind (that is, your thoughts and imagination) to reduce and effectively manage your pain.
What will the psychologist do?
You will initially be asked about the history of your pain as well as how you experience your pain on a daily basis. Your psychologist may also want to do brief testing to better understand you and your pain. A treatment program will be developed specifically for you. Techniques may include relaxation, mental imagery, or self-hypnosis. You will be asked to practice these strategies at home to become more proficient in managing your pain.
The field of mind-body medicine has convincingly demonstrated that these approaches are effective in reducing the suffering you are experiencing.
Self-hypnosis? How will this be helpful?
Self-hypnosis allows you to focus your concentration in ways that produce significant pain reduction. If this route is taken, the process will be explained to you in detail. Self-hypnosis does not produce a loss of control, sleep, or cause you to behave in silly ways. If fact, self-hypnosis is almost always experienced as relaxing and restful. You will also find greater control of yourself, particularly in your ability to manage your pain.
Will my doctor be involved?
Your psychologist will work closely with your physician. You will be asked to sign a release so that this communication can happen. You will, of course, be aware of any important information discussed between your psychologist and physician. You will be encouraged to think of your treatment as a team approach with you as an active member.