Counseling for those with Chronic Pain

at Health for Life Counseling Grand Rapids

Counseling for those with Chronic Pain
In Grand Rapids, MI and West Michigan At Health for Life Counseling Grand Rapids, MI

Chronic pain, defined as persistent pain that lasts for longer than 3 months, affects millions of people worldwide. According to the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), approximately 20.9% of US adults have experienced chronic pain. Even more concerning, 6.9% faced high-impact chronic pain, a severe form that significantly restricts daily activities.

But beyond the physical discomfort, have you ever considered the profound impact chronic pain can have on one’s mental and emotional well-being?

For many individuals, chronic pain is not just an isolated physical condition. Instead, it also affects mental health and can lead to feelings of frustration, isolation, and even depression. As the pain persists, the line between physical and emotional suffering often blurs, which is why it’s important to address both aspects for holistic healing.

If you or someone you know is navigating the challenges of chronic pain and its emotional repercussions, seeking counseling can be an important step toward reclaiming your well-being.

Connection Between Chronic Pain and Mental Health

Most of the time, when we feel physical pain, our minds immediately turn to physical causes. Did I lift something heavy? Was it that awkward twist?

However, it turns out that the root might not always be purely physical. In many cases, our mental health and stress levels play a pivotal role. It’s especially true when it comes to chronic pain. Studies show that there is a strong association between chronic pain and mental health disorders (e.g., Nissen et al., 2022).

For instance, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), individuals with chronic pain are almost twice as likely to experience mood disorders like depression. Moreover, chronic pain is a common condition among people who are diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder.

Why does this happen? The reason is that chronic pain can trigger stress responses in the body, which over time, can alter brain chemistry and heighten emotional responses. This means that not only does pain affect our physical state, but it also has a profound impact on our emotional and mental well-being.

How Counseling May Be Able to Help You Reduce Chronic Pain

Chronic pain is tough, and it’s not just about the physical sensation. Our thoughts and feelings play a big role in how we experience pain. Sometimes, we might get stuck in negative thoughts, like worrying too much about the pain or fearing it’ll get worse. These thoughts may actually make the pain feel even stronger.

In fact, empirical evidence shows that counseling can make a difference. According to  Driscoll and colleagues (2021), pain isn’t just a physical but a biopsychosocial experience, which is why psychological approaches can be effective in treating chronic pain. For example, a 2016 study shows that psychological interventions for chronic pain improved mood, irrational thoughts and helped patients alleviate pain (Pike et al., 2016).

However, it’s important to remember that going to therapy doesn’t mean the pain is “just in our heads.” Pain is real. But our minds have a powerful effect on how we handle it. With the right tools and strategies from counseling, we can feel better mentally and manage our pain more effectively.

Most Effective Types of Therapy for Chronic Pain

While medications and physical therapies often address the symptoms of chronic pain,

 certain therapeutic approaches have shown significant promise in helping individuals cope with and reduce their pain.

Here are some of the most effective therapies:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT is a goal-oriented therapy that helps individuals identify and challenge negative thought patterns related to their pain. It aims to help individuals recognize these patterns and replace them with more constructive thoughts. As a result, clients can change their reactions to pain, reduce its intensity and improve their overall quality of life.

For example, Ehde, Dillworth, and Turner from the University of Washington reviewed studies that considered CBT as an effective psychosocial treatment for chronic pain associated with various health conditions. They revealed that CBT is an effective therapy for a wide

the spectrum of chronic pain syndromes (Ehde et al., 2014).

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is a contemporary therapeutic approach that integrates mindfulness techniques. Instead of attempting to change or resist thoughts and experiences or denying the pain, ACT encourages acceptance of them. This therapy helps people learn to coexist with the pain and make choices that align with their personal values and long-term goals. Therefore, the purpose of this therapy is to enhance life quality despite the pain.

The therapy revolves around six core principles:

  • Being present at the moment;
  • Maintaining an objective perspective on thoughts and feelings;
  • Identifying personal values and goals;
  • Committing to these values;
  • Accepting discomfort as a part of behavioral change;
  • Understanding that thoughts aren’t always factual.

Studies indicate that ACT can lead to reduced pain perceptions, improved mood, and even a decrease in reliance on opioid pain medications (Taheri et al., 2020).

Mindfulness-Based Therapies

Mindfulness-based therapies teach individuals to focus on the present moment and observe their pain without judgment. The purpose of these therapies is to help individuals cultivate a mindful attitude so that they can distance themselves from the emotional distress often associated with chronic pain. This usually leads to reduced pain perception and improved emotional well-being.

One notable mind-body therapy that is considered effective in reducing chronic pain is mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR). As a result of incorporating practices like yoga and meditation, individuals can become more attuned to their bodies, which leads to a reduction in both pain and stress (Marske et al., 2020).

EMDR Therapy

EMDR, short for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, is a specialized therapy initially designed for trauma. In the context of chronic pain, EMDR works by desensitizing individuals to the emotional distress linked to their pain. This therapy can help uncover the root cause of pain and alter how the nervous system remembers it. Consequently, people can release emotional blockages and potentially reduce the pain’s intensity.

A study by Grant and Threlfo (2002) explored EMDR’s effectiveness in chronic pain management. Their findings indicated that participants experienced significant pain reduction and improved emotional well-being post-treatment. The study points out EMDR’s potential as a valuable tool in chronic pain treatment.

Emotional Freedom Technique

EFT, also known as Emotional Freedom Technique, uses acupressure to help manage chronic pain, emotions, and phobias. Unlike forcing these experiences away, EFT helps you accept them, reducing their intensity and making them more manageable. This gentle technique empowers you to self-soothe and find relief, potentially even transforming painful sensations into more tolerable ones.

What to Expect in a Counseling Session

If you’re considering starting counseling for chronic pain, chances are that you have questions about what the process will look like. While therapy won’t eliminate chronic pain entirely, it offers a range of advantages that can significantly improve your quality of life.

Therapy aims to decrease the intensity of pain you feel and equips you with practical coping strategies, like relaxation or distraction techniques, to manage it better.

The duration and frequency of therapy sessions vary. For instance, a standard CBT course might span weekly sessions over 10 to 20 weeks. Yet, even within the first three sessions, you can anticipate gaining valuable tools to both manage pain and alleviate its emotional toll.

Here’s what you can expect from a typical counseling session for chronic pain:

  • A deeper understanding of how to navigate your pain.
  • A decrease in depression and anxiety is linked to chronic pain.
  • Enhanced resilience and coping mechanisms for daily challenges.
  • Skills to identify and alter negative thought patterns that amplify pain.
  • Strategies to lead a fulfilling life, even with persistent pain.

Counseling Opportunities in Michigan

In Michigan, many individuals struggle with the challenges of chronic pain, seeking effective solutions to improve their quality of life. While there are various treatment options available, the integration of counseling has proven to be an effective solution for many, offering both physical relief and emotional resilience.

At Health for Life Counseling in Grand Rapids, MI, we’re committed to providing specialized care for those dealing with chronic pain. Our team of licensed practitioners is trained in therapeutic approaches tailored specifically for pain management. Whether you prefer in-person or online sessions, we’re here to support and guide you.

Reach out to us today to schedule an appointment, and don’t hesitate to start a journey toward a more manageable and fulfilling life.

Therapists For Counseling for those with Chronic Pain

Taylor Freund

Trauma Informed and Internal Family Systems informed Counseling for Adults

Katerina Guerrero

Empowering Your Journey: Culturally Inclusive, Integrative Therapy for Healing and Growth

Katy Jaramillo

Counseling and Art Therapy for Adults and Teens: Empowerment and Healing from Medical and Neurological Trauma + Existential Concerns

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