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Chronic Pain: Suffering in Silence

by | Nov 10, 2020

The invisible cloak of chronic pain is a heavy and stifling garment to wear. If you struggle with persistent pain, then you know the toll it can take on your quality of life. Perhaps you’ve given up on your favorite activities, declined social outings, felt misunderstood, struggled with depression, anxiety and insomnia, or even lost your lust for life. Perhaps you’ve tried multiple medical treatments and didn’t obtain the desired relief. And when these treatments didn’t work, you might have been left with the blame, being labeled “treatment-resistant” or, even worse, hearing that “You failed all of our treatments.” The feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, and even despair that such statements may evoke can make you believe that nothing will ever alleviate your pain and suffering. So, you throw up your hands in dismay and resign to suffer in silence. You’re only human after all.

But what if I told you it does not have to be this way? What if I told you that traditional approaches to managing chronic pain are just not enough?

I’m Dr. Daniela De Medeiros, a Licensed Psychologist in the state of Florida, and I specialize in the psychological treatment of mental health issues and co-occurring medical conditions, including chronic pain syndromes. During my work with multidisciplinary treatment teams, it quickly became evident to me that chronic pain remains a medical mystery. People with similar injuries and nearly identical MRI imaging tests often report significantly different levels of pain and discomfort. Why might that be? Studies show that the amount of pain you feel is often not proportional to the extent of the injuries sustained. In fact, the International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP) defines “pain” as an unpleasant experience that accompanies both sensory and emotional modalities; may or may not be accompanied by identifiable tissue damage; and is influenced by multiple factors, including cognitive, affective, and environmental (Flor & Turk, 2011). Chronic pain is defined as pain that persists for an extended period of time (over 3 months), that accompanies a disease process, or that is associated with an injury that has not resolved over time (Vase et al., 2014). Nevertheless, chronic pain continues to be treated as an entirely physical phenomenon.

Since pain is always a subjective experience influenced by our biology, emotions, thoughts, and behaviors, then effective treatment strategies must address all domains that maintain and worsen the pain problem. Therefore, the need for a holistic multidisciplinary approach to tackle chronic pain is abundantly clear. Psychological interventions can help!

In my clinical practice, I utilize evidence-based therapies that have shown to be effective in clinical studies in helping individuals manage various chronic pain conditions. Therapeutic approaches include Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). In therapy, you will learn ways to challenge catastrophic and repetitive thought patterns, sit with uncomfortable emotions, and utilize mindfulness-based practices in daily life to manage pain levels and cultivate joy. You’ll develop an arsenal of coping skills that have been shown to improve people’s ability to navigate the challenges of living with chronic pain. You’ll learn to untangle the unpleasant experience of pain from that of suffering and explore what living a fulfilling life truly means to you.

Chronic pain may be an invisible affliction, but it does not have to be an invincible one. I see you, and I am here to help.

References
Flor, H., & Turk, D. (2011). Chronic pain: An integrated biobehavioral approach (2nd ed.). Seattle, WA:
IASP Press.

Vase, L., Skyt, I., Laue Petersen, G., & Price, D. D. (2014). Placebo and nocebo effects in chronic pain patients: How expectations and emotional feelings contribute to the experience of pain. Zeitschrift Für Psychologie, 222(3), 135-139. doi:10.1027/2151-2604/a000181

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