Psychology Week: Chronic Pain November 2020

This week is Psychology week and the theme of this year’s events is Chronic Pain and the way in which psychologists can help. Our psychologist Jade Goodman highlights that 1 in 3 Australians experience chronic pain, making it a common experience. 

What is Chronic Pain?

Contrary to popular belief, pain is actually very helpful! It is there to keep us safe. If you were to touch a hotplate unexpectedly pain is your body’s way of signaling you to remove your hand immediately. Similarly, if you pull a muscle at the gym, pain is your body’s way of telling you to slow down and rest. In other words, pain is our body’s warning system for threats in our environment and without it we would likely hurt ourselves a whole lot more. Pain becomes unhelpful when our threat system perceives non-threatening sensory information, such as the breeze or cool water, as threatening. This sensitiveness leads to our warning system (ie, pain) being triggered more often throughout the day. Pain becomes chronic when this continues over months or years. 

How can psychologists help?

Psychologists are probably not the first people you think about when you are seeking help for chronic pain. There can sometimes be the misconception that the suggestion to see a psychologist means that you are making it up or that it’s all in your head. But that is certainly not the case! Chronic pain is not only impacted by biological factors. Additional psychological and social stress can heighten the experience of pain. Also, the experience of pain itself can lead to many psychological and social stressors. At times the experience of chronic pain and its impacts can feel like a difficult cycle to escape.

Working with a psychologist can:

 Help you to identify the factors that contribute to and maintain pain.
 Help you to identify the daily stressors that increase your pain and those activities that help reduce pain.
 Help you identify your thoughts and beliefs about pain.
 Help you to identify realistic and achievable goals for managing pain and getting back into the activities you want to do again.
 Feel more in control of your pain.

For further information on how psychology can help check out the Australian Psychology Society resources on pain: https://psychweek.org.au/2020-resources/

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