Chronic pain can have serious psychological and emotional effects and lead to problems such as depression, anxiety and helplessness. These emotional factors can then lead to increased pain and disability that can interfere with daily activities and responsibilities. When pain becomes the major focus of a person's life, it may lead to problems such as time out of work, frequent use of health care services, substantial use of medications and problems interacting with other people.

Pain psychology interventions are designed to help people deal with pain and disability, decrease physical limitations, and enhance quality of life. These techniques are designed to help people address psychological reactions such as stress, fear, overwhelming attention to pain, hopelessness, worry, frustration, anger, negative self-worth, feelings of loss of control and avoidance. They do this by evaluating and treating factors such as:

  • How pain is experienced
  • How pain effects mood and emotion
  • Ways of coping with pain
  • How pain is expressed through behavior
  • The ability to perform daily activities
  • How pain effects relationships
  • Enjoyment of activities
  • Self-care and planning skills

Pain is a whole person experience that can affect many areas. This is because most people experience pain in a number of ways including physically, behaviorally, emotionally, socially and intellectually. The goal of pain psychology evaluation and treatment is to help individuals develop skills that decrease pain suffering and increase function and quality of life.

During a pain psychology evaluation you may be asked to complete questionnaires which, along with the personal assessment interview, are designed to help you and the Pain Management Center team design the best possible interdisciplinary treatment for your pain relief. The results of your pain psychology evaluation and individualized treatment recommendations will be reviewed with you prior to your treatment. Your pain psychology treatment plan may include any of the following approaches:

  • Patient information and education
  • Coping skills training: developing adaptive skills
  • Relaxation techniques: procedures to help relieve tension
  • Visual imagery: using positive thoughts to decrease anxiety and sadness
  • Biofeedback: self-guided methods to control physical functions
  • Behavioral learning or conditioning techniques: changing behavior by affecting consequences
  • Problem solving and goal setting strategies: developing alternative plans for solutions to problems
  • Cognitive restructuring techniques: correcting negative thoughts that may be automatic
  • Self-monitoring: adjusting reactions to situations
  • Individual and/or group counseling

It is important to note that some patients are concerned that a referral to pain psychology may somehow imply that their pain is not real. This is most certainly not the case. Physical pain is normally recognized by the brain and affects people's wellness, and it is these effects that we hope to identify during a pain psychology evaluation and improve with pain psychology treatment. Our goal is to treat the whole person to improve his or her functioning and quality of life.

For more information or to make an appointment, call the University of Maryland Pain Management Center at 410-448-6824.