Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Living With Chronic Pain - How a Therapist Can Help

Chronic Pain is one of the most difficult and troubling health problems confronting our society. It has been conservatively estimated that one in 10 people in the U.S. suffers from some form of chronic pain - defined here as pain that persists for 6 months or longer. If you are someone living with chronic pain, it is important to know that chronic pain does not have to shut down your life, stop you from living a meaningful life. A therapist, knowledgeable of the challenges of living with chronic pain, can help you to prevent this from happening. This article addresses how a therapist can be helpful to you.

Assisting you in leading as active a life as possible, reversing the tendency of chronic pain sufferers to become sedentary, physically inactive. 

Reduced physical activity and a sedentary life style is a common consequence of chronic pain and can actually increase your physical distress. Reduced physical activity leads to muscle inflexibility, loss of strength and physical stamina, weight gain due to inactivity. It can increase sleep difficulties, contribute to a sense of uselessness, and intensify feelings of depression and hopelessness. A therapist, with an understanding of how chronic pain differs from acute pain (which yells STOP as we are causing damage to our bodies) can help you:

·   To manage understandable fears of injury that will prevent you from resuming safe physical activities

·   To learn how to avoid exacerbating pain symptoms by pacing physical activities, learning safe exercises, and managing the urge to overdo activities on days you’re feeling better.

·   To overcome reluctance, feelings of intimidation to communicating to medical and health providers important lifestyle activities ( work, hobbies, recreational activities, travel) you hope to be able to resume, to getting advice on safe ways to resume these, and to keep providers informed of symptom changes that may need further attention.

By promoting a healthier state of mind, fostering hope  for a better future.

A therapist who works with chronic pain patients needs to be knowledgeable of the mind-body connection. This means knowing how physical pain can affect emotions and thinking patterns, and how emotional distress and negative-pessimistic thinking can intensify already existing pain.  An experienced therapist can help with:

·   Self-calming strategies and techniques to reduce the physical tension that stress creates that can increase pain, interfere with restful sleep, and wear you down. These strategies and techniques can also reduce the need to rely on medications that have troubling side effects.

·   Managing overly pessimistic and unrealistic thinking that can intensify feeling of depression and hopelessness, and make it harder to cope.

·   Assistance in facing and resolving conflicts or stress in important relationships that can intensify pain.

·   Gaining acceptance of the loss of hope for a cure, and facing the reality of a future life with some degree of pain.  This is a difficult pill for anyone to swallow, but it is particularly hard if you’ve experienced significant painful losses earlier in life.  However it is necessary for constructive coping to replace the desperate and unrealistic searching for a cure.

A therapist can help prevent the social withdrawal and isolation that can occur with chronic pain.

When living with chronic pain, there can be an understandable tendency to withdraw from family and friends as part of a desire to not burden or distress them, or to avoid having to deal with misunderstanding, skepticism or negative judgment from others.  This can be particularly strong when you don’t have any obvious handicap or physical abnormality.  This tendency to withdraw in anticipation that people will disappoint or let you down can be very strong if you’ve had repeated experience of disappointment, hurt, or rejection from important people earlier in life.  This withdrawal from people and loss of emotional support, understanding, and comfort can intensify feelings of isolation, loneliness, and depression. A therapist can help you:

·   To manage fears of disappointment and rejection so you’re more willing to lean on others for support, understanding, encouragement, comfort.

·   To overcome fears of assertiveness or a tendency to be submissive so you can advocate for your needs for understanding and information in order to take good care or yourself, make informed decisions about your medical care.

·   To be able to voice understandable fears of burdening loved ones or of them “getting fed up” with your pain, so that important emotional connections are not lost.

·   To resume and strengthen sexual relationships that have been curtailed by chronic pain.

A therapist can work with you to find ways to live as full and constructive a life as possible.

This is extremely important as we all need to feel a sense of purpose in life, to experience ourselves as making a valuable contribution, as being needed by and helpful to others. A therapist can be helpful to you:

·   By supporting your efforts to face the loss of previously gratifying and valued activities, roles, jobs and either redefine these, or create new ways to contribute that are equally satisfying for you.
·   By helping you manage the frustration, uncertainty, self-doubts, and fears you may encounter so you don’t give up on the difficult but important work of fashioning new ways for you to lead a full and meaningful life.