- Aug 6, 2021
- 3 min
Chronic Pain Is Not Just Physical
Roughly 100 million people in the United States struggle with chronic pain . For many of them, the obvious solution is to see a doctor...
Founded by Inna Khazan, Ph.D. Licensed Clinical Psychologist. Certified Biofeedback Specialist.
Are you tired of living in pain? Do you feel like you’re missing out on life because of your physical limitations? Maybe there are social activities that your body can’t handle, so you find yourself constantly having to say no to outings with friends. Because it’s embarrassing to explain what you can and can’t do, perhaps you avoid telling others about your condition altogether.
Additionally, your pain may have created severe health anxiety—even when you feel okay, you live in perpetual fear of your pain returning. And when the pain does return, you’re afraid of it getting worse. Sometimes, it may seem like your entire life is built around when your pain will hit next and how it will affect your life.
Living with chronic pain often feels like being stuck in a vicious cycle. Constant fear of pain leads to lack of activity and avoidance of getting out and seeing people, which leads to isolation and loneliness, which in turn leads to depression and more pain. This cycle of pain, fear and avoidance can prevent you from engaging in life and cause you to feel helpless and stuck.
Oftentimes, the worst part of dealing with chronic pain is how invisible it is. Doctors, friends, and family may not fully believe you when you share your struggles. This is why counseling for chronic pain is so vital. It’s a chance to find validation from a compassionate therapist who understands what an uphill climb it is to live with chronic pain and will help you develop a healthier response to your situation.
Over 20 percent of adults in the United States suffer from chronic pain, and over seven percent have high-impact chronic pain which severely limits their ability to work and engage in life. But in spite of how common chronic pain is, many people think it is a “psychological” problem. They are constantly told that pain is in their heads. As a result, they come to believe that their pain isn’t real—that they’re bringing it on themselves or that they’re weak or broken.
This mentality has it all backward. Since it is your brain that processes the sensations of pain and tells you that you are in pain, your pain is—to some extent—in your head. But your pain does not depend entirely on your emotions. It is real, it is agonizing, and it deserves to be taken seriously. You are not weak, broken, or at fault for your suffering.
Because of the stigma surrounding chronic pain, however, seeking help may seem scary. After all, if you’ve had people try to tell you that your pain isn’t real or it isn’t that bad, you probably feel like you can’t trust anyone. Here at the Boston Center for Health Psychology and Biofeedback, you have a chance to share your story with a trusted professional who knows chronic pain is real and knows it is possible to live joyfully in spite of it.
It’s natural to try and manage chronic pain on your own, but pain isn’t always under your control. If you find yourself investing all your energy in wishing you didn’t have pain or getting angry about your limitations, you probably find that your discomfort just gets worse. That’s why we want to help you reframe your mindset and respond to pain in a way that is thoughtful and life-affirming.
The first session with the clinicians at our downtown Boston offices is a chance to get to know you and your unique situation. You and your therapist will talk about how your medical issue presents itself on a daily basis and how it impacts your ability to live the life you want. Whether you struggle with fibromyalgia, jaw pain, IBS, headaches, joint disorders, back/neck/shoulder pain, or some other form of chronic pain, we are confident that we can accommodate you. We also encourage you to voice any health concerns about counseling itself. For instance, if you suffer from chronic back pain and can’t sit for long periods of time, you are more than welcome to stand or recline during therapy.
As we continue to work together, we will explore your history of discomfort and how you have responded to it in the past. While it is natural and human to try and avoid or control pain, these actions are ultimately unhelpful and often exacerbate the cycle of pain and fear. We want to help you identify any unhelpful automatic reactions and work to change them into responses that lead toward what is desirable and fulfilling. Instead of trying to run from pain, you will be able to allow for its presence in a way that is manageable and does not overwhelm you.
One of the foremost approaches we draw from is called biofeedback. Biofeedback is a way to train the body and mind in self-regulation. There are two main parts of the nervous system: the stress activation part and the relaxation part. If you struggle with chronic pain, your nervous system gets dysregulated and the relaxation part has a hard time modulating stress activation. This causes an increase in both pain and fear. With biofeedback, we strengthen the mechanism responsible for regulating stress activation, thereby reducing the intensity of fear and pain.
Additionally, we may utilize mindfulness skills so you can respond to discomfort in a way that is within your control rather than trying to change the present experience itself. You will learn breathing and grounding techniques for reducing your pain’s intensity. You will also learn to change the way you in which you attend to your pain. This will help you break the cycle of discomfort by allaying your fears and allowing you to stop avoiding activities that you worry would produce pain.
Lastly, we will help you approach yourself and your pain with kindness and self-compassion rather than self-blame. You are not at fault for your pain and you are not weak or broken. By changing negative self-beliefs and harsh self-talk, you will learn to respond to your discomfort in the way you would a loved one or a dear friend.
Although we cannot offer a cure for pain itself, we believe that we can help you break free from the hold it has on you. Our goal is to empower you to get back into your life, take part in the activities that are important to you, and move forward with your hopes and dreams.
Being unable to control pain is not a sign of weakness. What’s more, merely trying to control pain often makes it worse. Instead of trying to change the unchangeable, we want you to step back and focus on what is in your control. True strength is found in accepting and adjusting to your situation by making small, realistic changes. Over time, subtle shifts in the way you think and behave can make a huge difference in your life.
Since you are reading this page, it is likely that medication didn’t provide you with the relief you were hoping for. What’s more, medication often comes with significant side effects, carries the risk of addiction, and doesn’t teach you any new coping strategies. Our practice will teach you pain-management skills that will last you a lifetime and carry no risk of addiction or significant side effects.
It’s important to check with your doctor to make sure that increased movement and activity are healthy and advisable. If so, we will help you take small steps toward overcoming the fear of being more active. Think about it this way: would you rather be at home alone focusing on the pain and how miserable you are, or be out doing something pleasant with the people you love?
There’s no sugarcoating it: living with chronic pain is hard. And the effects of chronic pain can take a serious toll on your mental health. Here at the Boston Center for Health Psychology and Biofeedback, located in downtown Boston, MA, you have a chance to reduce those effects by changing how you respond to pain and embracing new opportunities for growth. To get started, you can email us or use the contact page or call 617-231-0011 for a free, 15-minute phone consultation.
Right now, due to COVID-19, we provide a mix of telehealth and in-person treatment for chronic pain. We will do whichever option you prefer!