Role of Psychology in Treating Chronic Pain
Targeting the unconscious brain
Multiple behavioral, cognitive, and emotional factors contribute to the perpetuation of chronic pain. The thoughts that drive behaviors, cognitions, and emotions take place in the frontal lobes, which comprise a mere 12% of our brain mass.
We don’t use the remaining 88% to think — at least not consciously. Yet that 88% contributes to the pain we feel, according to Dr. Mary Mattison, a clinical psychologist at Nura. And while we can’t think our pain away, we can use psychological strategies and techniques to target the unconscious brain structure in order to affect the pain we feel.
Mary Mattison actually began at MAPS, the progenitor of today’s Nura Pain Clinic. After a brief hiatus, she returned “without an instant’s hesitation” when clinic founder Dr. David Schultz formed Nura and asked her to come back.
Mary talked recently about some of the tools Nura’s behavioral health team uses to help patients dealing with chronic pain.
“We wrap our arms around the patient in order to help them get back into life,” she noted. “And since the multidisciplinary providers all work together, we make every attempt to coordinate care during a single visit so the patient doesn’t feel like they are being bounced around.”
Dr. Mattison and the other two pain psychologists on staff identify the patient’s psychological, emotional and behavioral barriers, then work with the patient to develop an action plan to achieve their personal, social, physical, vocational and family goals.
“We know from a neurophysiological standpoint that thoughts and emotions affect pain — we understand the neuroscience behind pain and emotion. We work with medically complex patients who are often desperate to restore some life independence and viable type of function. To that end, we teach coping mechanisms and down-regulation strategies to help quiet or buffer their chronic pain.”
These strategies include relaxation, breathing, distraction, biofeedback, cognitive behavioral therapy, identifying negative thought patterns and reframing thoughts, acceptance and commitment (therapy), and Eye-Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR), which was first developed to help Vietnam veterans returning after the war.
When asked how she stays motivated, she paused, then said, “We deal with incredibly complex medical conditions and personal situations. We help our patients through these life problems as a team, by giving guidance and lending a helping hand.
“We teach patients not just how things work, but why they work. And we send them home with a tool kit that helps them regain control.”
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Sleep plays a vital role in overall health and healing. Our patient-friendly Nura Sleep Brochure explains the restorative function of sleep, the stages of sleep and common sleep disorders, and provides tips for improving sleep quality. You can also request additional copies for your patients.