Chronic PainCBT for Chronic Pain: Does It Really Work?

CBT for Chronic Pain: Does It Really Work?

CBT for Chronic PainThere are a lot of different approaches to pain management out there from medications to sound wave therapy. But what about cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for chronic pain? Can this mental health treatment actually help reduce pain? Here’s what you need to know about the effectiveness of CBT for chronic pain and whether or not it could work for you.

Study Shows CBT Can Reduce Pain

A study was recently published about cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for chronic pain. This study looked at a few different factors when it comes to chronic pain and mental health. First, researchers evaluated how effective CBT could be for chronic pain. Second, it measured how long CBT sessions need to be in order to be helpful in helping chronic pain patients. Lastly, it looked at how the treatment was delivered to understand more about what patients with chronic pain need.

What is unique about this study is that it assessed how artificial intelligence (AI) could play a role in making CBT for chronic pain more efficient and effective. Overall, the results showed that patients who had AI-led CBT benefitted more than those who did not. This means that the people who participated in CBT reported less pain after 6 months. Interestingly, the AI was able to adjust the length of therapy sessions based on what it gathered that patients needed. Some patients only needed 15-minute sessions of CBT to feel the results.

Not only does this show how CBT can be useful in reducing the intensity of chronic pain, but it also indicates that AI-CBT for chronic pain can be just as effective. The significance of this is that there will be more opportunities for chronic pain patients to receive CBT treatment through this method than there would be just having them see a standard mental health professional.

Given that approximately 20 percent of American adults struggle with chronic pain, there’s often a lack of resources available to them. But with AI, the resources are much greater. For many people with chronic pain who are looking for relief, this breakthrough could be the answer.

How Does CBT Help Pain?

Now that we know that CBT can help chronic pain patients, we can dive deeper to figure out exactly how this happens. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a treatment approach used for a variety of mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, substance use disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). CBT is done as talk therapy through counseling sessions, usually with a mental health professional, though the study mentioned above shows that this isn’t the only possible approach.

CBT for Chronic Pain Infographic

The goal with CBT is to recognize and let go of negative thoughts and behaviors. The negative thoughts that someone has can directly influence the way they feel and behave. By changing these unhelpful thought patterns, certain actions and behaviors could become less harmful. This will then help people to improve their quality of life.

So, how does this relate to chronic pain? Chronic pain is something that can happen because of a variety of reasons: illness, genetic conditions, surgery, etc. While the symptoms of chronic pain are typically thought to be physical, mental health is something that is closely linked.

Research shows that people with chronic pain are more likely to experience symptoms of mental health distress. In fact, more than half of people interviewed chronic pain also identified as having co-occurring disorders such as anxiety or depression. In this sense, CBT can help with the mental health side effects that come with chronic pain.

But it goes farther than that—the skills learned through CBT can actually reduce the physical symptoms of pain. There are a couple of reasons behind this. To start, CBT can help a person to change their perception of pain.

For people with chronic pain, which is defined as pain that lasts for an extended amount of time with little to no relief, it is draining to be uncomfortable and in pain nearly 24/7. It’s common for people with chronic pain to have negative thoughts associated with this. These might sound like:

  • “This pain will never get better.”
  • “I can’t do anything because of the pain.”
  • “This pain ruins everything.”

Now, it’s good to note that these thoughts and feelings are valid—it often does feel that the pain just won’t go away, or that it’s hard to do anything but simply survive day to day. But at the same time, this pathway of thinking usually only makes the pain and the mental health strain worse. These negative thoughts might lead to increased body tension, which would result in more pain. Plus, this negative thinking could up your levels of anxiety, which can cause other side effects, such as not being able to sleep.

CBT helps you to turn these negative thoughts into more productive ones. For example, you might think, “This pain will never get better,” but then utilize the skills from CBT, such as mindfulness, to acknowledge the thought, accept the reality of pain in this moment, and then recognize that the future is not set in stone. Pain, even when chronic, is not permanent. This doesn’t mean it will go away, but it does mean that pain will shift to something that might be a little more tolerable.

Putting CBT in Practice

With this, you might picture placing the negative thought on a leaf and sending it down a calm stream. Visualize it flowing away from you. Take stock of the five senses, including what you feel physically, and try to just be present. This is one of the pillars of CBT: staying present to stop the spiral of negative thoughts.

CBT for Chronic Pain Chart

Other aspects of CBT that are useful for people with chronic pain would be:

  • Identifying emotions
  • Setting realistic goals
  • Radical acceptance of things that cannot change
  • Progressive muscle relaxation

All of these elements work together to help people with chronic pain improve their quality of life. Of course, be sure to seek out medical advice on whether or not CBT is right for you. In any case, be sure to connect with others who understand the experiences of chronic pain. You may get tips and tricks on how to alleviate some of the pain. On top of this, being part of a chronic pain community can ease mental health struggles as well.

All in all, CBT might not be the expected route for pain management, but it is one that ultimately addresses the many complexities of chronic pain. But you never know—one minute, you could be trying to relieve the pain and the next, AI could be helping you to reduce it, one 15-minute CBT session at a time.

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