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What Is Pain?

Pain is an unpleasant feeling often caused by intense or damaging stimuli, such as stubbing a toe, burning a finger or putting alcohol on a cut.  The International Association for the Study of Pain’s widely used definition states: “Pain is an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage, or described in terms of such damage”.

Pain motivates the individual to withdraw from damaging situations, to protect a damaged body part while it heals, and to avoid similar experiences in the future. Most pain resolves promptly once the painful stimulus is removed and the body has healed, but sometimes pain persists despite removal of the stimulus and apparent healing of the body; and sometimes pain arises in the absence of any detectable stimulus, damage or disease.

CBT for pain management

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) for pain management has three basic components. The first is a treatment rationale that helps clients understand that cognitions and behaviour can affect the pain experience and emphasises the role that clients can play in controlling their own pain. The second component of CBT is coping skills training. Training is provided in wide variety of cognitive and behavioural pain coping strategies. Progressive relaxation and cue-controlled brief relaxation exercises are used to decrease muscle tension, reduce emotional distress, and divert attention from pain. Activity pacing and pleasant activity scheduling are used to help clients increase the level and range of their activities. Training in distraction techniques such as pleasant imagery, counting methods, and use of a focal point helps clients learn to divert attention away from severe pain episodes. Cognitive restructuring is used to help clients identify and challenge overly negative pain-related thoughts and to replace these thoughts with more adaptive, coping thoughts. The third component of CBT involves the application and maintenance of learned coping skills. During this phase of treatment, clients are encouraged to apply their coping skills to a progressively wider range of daily situations. Clients are taught problem solving methods that enable them to analyse and develop plans for dealing with pain flares and other challenging situations. Self-monitoring and behavioural contracting methods also are used to prompt and reinforce frequent coping skills practice.

Mindfulness for pain management

Mindfulness based cognitive therapy (MBCT) can help you to face pain by cultivating qualities such as emotional tolerance and self-acceptance.  By learning to face pain directly, you can change your relationship to it.  Instead of reacting in habitual ways – hating it, excessively thinking about it, or pushing it away- you can begin to open up to it, become curious about it, even accept it.  Paradoxically, such acceptance often leads to positive change.

Conversely, what we resist is often perpetuated; this is because resistance is a way of holding on and results in tightening and contraction.  By brining mindfulness to pain, you can learn to stop resisting it or reacting to it. Once you do this, you’re better able to respond to it skilfully instead of reacting to it automatically.

Overall, the current evidence suggests that mindfulness-based treatments are about as good as well-established psychological treatments for persistent pain, like Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT).

Make an appointment

If you would like to arrange an appointment, make a referral or require further information about how we can help please telephone our Wolverhampton practice on: 01902 827808. Alternatively fill out our online contact form.