Change your brain to change your pain!!
What does mental health have to do with PAIN?
Susan loved her job as a nurse. She worked long hours, but helping her patients and feeling a sense of purpose made it all worthwhile. Being a nurse was all she had ever wanted to do. Susan’s job occasionally required her to lift people or maneuver them in their hospital beds, and many of them were larger than she was. Over time, the heavy lifting took a toll on Susan’s back. She ignored the pain as much as possible, but eventually it started to interfere with her ability to work and she found herself sitting in a surgeon’s office. Her surgery did not bring the relief she had hoped for. In fact, she felt worse than before and had more pain than before. Her doctors told her she had “healed” and that the pain was “all in her head.” She could no longer do the work she loved, and she gave up her favorite activities. Susan began to feel depressed and lose the love for life she once had.
If you’re one of 50 million Americans living with chronic pain, you may relate to Susan’s story. You may have been injured at work and can no longer do the job you once loved. You may have experienced a devastating accident that changed your life. You may have been told by countless medical professionals that there is nothing more that can be done for you. Pain does not have to mean suffering.
What is pain?
Pain is defined as an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage, or described in terms of such damage (International Association for the Study of Pain). Remember this definition – it’s important!
There are two types of pain – (1) acute and (2)chronic. Acute pain occurs immediately after an injury. It is an alarm that requests immediate attention and alerts you to damage. The treatment for acute pain is straightforward. If you break your arm, the doctor puts you in a cast until the bone is healed. Chronic pain is different. Chronic pain is persistent and lasts long after the initial injury. It is usually defined as pain lasting more than 3 months. Chronic pain does not have to be related to an injury. It can include lower back pain, headache pain, arthritis, fibromyalgia, and other pain related to an ongoing medical condition.
How can counseling help?
Remember that definition of pain earlier? It is a “sensory and emotional experience.” Yes, there is an emotional component to pain. In fact, the thoughts you have about your pain have a big impact on the way you experience it. For example, if you tell yourself, “This is unbearable, I’ll never survive this,” you are likely to feel scared, hopeless, and powerless. By contrast, if you tell yourself, “I’m uncomfortable today, but I’ve handled worse than this,” you may feel a bit better and empowered to face whatever is in front of you.
In counseling, we work to change the thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors you have surrounding your pain. Changing the way you think about your pain can change your overall experience. You can literally change your brain to change your pain!
In my practice, I work with people to target their unhelpful pain-related thoughts, beliefs, and self-statements. I help them identify positive activities to add into their lives, develop healthier sleep routines, and practice relaxation techniques designed to “turn down the volume” on their pain.
If you feel like your pain has taken over your life, I encourage you to talk to a therapist who specializes in the treatment of chronic pain. You have more power over pain than you think!
~ ERIN BELLAMY ~
License Professional Counselor
Trained in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Chronic Pain (CBT-CP)