For those of us who have not experienced chronic pain, it can be difficult to imagine what it is like. Since there is no way to measure pain it is subjective. This makes it even more difficult for those who do not experience it to imagine what sufferers go through. People describe it as being in a dark and despairing place where they are often not taken seriously. Sometimes just getting dressed in the morning is a huge struggle and takes a mammoth amount of determination and courage. Chronic pain may make it difficult to sleep and the nights of tossing and turning restlessly aggravate the chronic pain and the low mood. Doctor after doctor may have been consulted and painkillers prescribed however none of these measures have worked to alleviate the pain. Chronic pain can affect one’s relationships, ability to work and advance professionally, ability to move around freely. Yet since the cause of pain is not necessarily visible to the human eye, particularly when it is medically unexplained, those suffering may experience judgement rather than understanding.
Chronic pain lasts for more than six months. It can be constant or episodic, acute or mild, burning or aching. It might be a headache, joint pain, backache, tendonitis, sinusitis or carpal tunnel syndrome. It can be due to a known factor such as an operation, accident, arthritis or it may be medically unexplained. It occurs when the nerves signalling pain continue to remain active for months and sometimes years.
It can be accompanied by feelings of anxiety, depression, frustration, anger and shame as the individual struggles to come to terms with their chronic pain. These psychological symptoms can exacerbate the chronic pain as there is much evidence to prove that increased stress decreases the body’s ability to produce natural painkillers. There is also much evidence to show that chronic pain lowers the immune system and thus makes one more susceptible to further illnesses. There is therefore a definite relationship between chronic pain and mental outlook and for this reason it can be alleviated through therapy.
In addition to following any treatment prescribed by your GP or consultant, cognitive behavioural therapies are proven to be effective in managing chronic pain.
We deliver Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), which is one of the ‘third wave’ cognitive behavioural approaches, to assist individuals with chronic pain. ACT works on the premise that suffering with chronic pain occurs and is exacerbated by continual attempts to minimise, control or eradicate pain. It aims to develop psychological flexibility; the ability to observe and willingly experience unwanted thoughts, feelings, or painful physical sensations without attempting to control or change them, in order to engage in valued actions. It helps individuals increase their ability to willingly experience pain and supports them to find opportunities to engage in valued actions whilst willingly experiencing pain.