Pain is something we all experience from time to time. However, for some people pain is more of a constant companion than a rare occurrence. When pain lasts more than three to six months, it becomes considered chronic pain.
What is the connection between chronic pain and counselling?
Chronic pain is an issue that affects many Canadians. A 2007/2008 Stats Canada survey indicated that 1.5 million Canadians were managing chronic pain. Many of us would consider pain to be a purely physical concern. However, pain radiates into other areas of life – including our psychological and emotional experiences. What and how we think about the pain, how we change our behaviours in relation to pain, the role pain plays in our life, and the impact the pain has on our quality of life, work, relationships, parenting, sleep, and other areas of our life may be beyond the physical experience itself. Chronic pain can lead to feeling frustrated, hopeless, depressed, anxious, or angry. Managing chronic pain effectively includes treating the physical, emotional, behavioural, and psychological aspects.
How would counselling help me manage chronic pain?
Let’s Talk About Pain
Chronic pain can be invisible. People around you – even those who care about you – may not understand the pain you are living with or may even question its legitimacy. As well, it may be difficult to talk about your pain or for those who care about you to hear that you are suffering. This may lead to feeling alone or unsupported. Being able to talk about what is happening for you can be an important part of coping with it. By attending a session with me, you will have the opportunity to talk about how pain has impacted you and your feelings about the pain without having to censor yourself.
Perceptions of Pain
Understanding how you perceive the pain as well as your beliefs, emotions and behaviours related to pain can help you to cope more effectively with it (and sometimes reduce the intensity). Together, we might explore thoughts or beliefs that are assisting in managing the pain and those which might make it more difficult to cope.
When we’re in pain and/or when we are experiencing stress, our body tends to tense. This can lead to a more intense experience of the pain. As part of counselling related to chronic pain, I can teach you relaxation techniques which would help reduce tension levels in your body as well as possibly reduce stress and anxiety through the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system. Techniques that might be helpful include diaphragmatic breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and mindfulness tasks.
Building Coping Strategies
Whether pain is impacting your emotions (e.g. anxiety, stress, depression, and anger), sleep, relationships, work, daily functioning, parenting or many others, we can discuss strategies that might assist in managing these areas. For each person the experience of pain is unique so the strategies to cope will also be unique. Together we will work towards a strategy that fits for you.
Establishing quality of life with pain may include exploring a “new normal”. Things may not look exactly the same as they did before the pain, but that does not mean that you cannot experience satisfaction and joy in your life once again.
When should I book a counselling session?
Most of the time, sooner is better than later. The longer you struggle with coping with chronic pain, the more challenging it could be to develop skills to cope. However, even if you’ve been coping with chronic pain for years, now would be an appropriate time to explore the possible benefits of counselling.
If you have questions about whether counselling is right for you, feel free to book a free 15 minute meet-and-greet with me. We can discuss your concerns and explore options.
Tips for Coping with Pain from the American Psychological Association:
Consider the following steps that can be helpful in changing habits and improving your sleep:
Stay active. Pain — or the fear of pain — can lead people to stop doing the things they enjoy. It’s important not to let pain take over your life.
Know your limits. Continue to be active in a way that acknowledges your physical limitations. Make a plan about how to manage your pain and don’t push yourself to do more than you can handle.
Exercise. Stay healthy with low-impact exercise, such as stretching, yoga, walking and swimming.
Make social connections. Call a family member, invite a friend to lunch or make a date for coffee with a pal you haven’t seen in a while. Research shows that people with greater social support are more resilient and experience less depression and anxiety. Ask for help when you need it.
Distract yourself. When pain flares, find ways to distract your mind from it. Watch a movie, take a walk, engage in a hobby or visit a museum. Pleasant experiences can help you cope with pain.
Don’t lose hope. With the right kind of psychological treatments, many people learn to manage their pain and think of it in a different way.
Follow prescriptions carefully. If medications are part of your treatment plan, be sure to use them as prescribed by your doctor to avoid possible dangerous side effects. In addition to helping you develop better ways to cope with and manage pain, psychologists can help you develop a routine to stay on track with your treatment.