Chronic pain is real, but despite advances in medical science, there is currently no treatment available which consistently and permanently relieves pain for everyone. Between 16 to 41 per cent of Canadians suffer from chronic pain, which challenges the sufferer not only because of the stress created by the pain itself, but with other difficulties that can impact all aspects of a person’s life. If you have been searching for help you likely also know that the quest for chronic pain relief often remains elusive. However, chronic pain need not be a hopeless or helpless condition.
The consequences of unrelieved pain can include but are not limited to depression, anxiety, sleep and appetite disturbances, social isolation and feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. In other words, unrelieved pain can disconnect you from your family, friends, work and recreation. This can be the worst kind of pain, and the fall-out from chronic pain can also extend beyond the person to family, friends and caregivers.
Research has long recognized the psychological dimensions of chronic pain. In fact, pain is partly defined as “an emotional experience.” Coping with chronic pain requires immense emotional resilience as it depletes a person’s emotional reserves. For most people, putting our efforts into relationships, work, community involvement, parenting, recreation, and exercise give meaning to life. However, the more that we attempt to avoid pain, the more controlled, inflexible, and limited our lives become.
Professional counselling helps people to accept that the pain is there, and not because it is wanted, but because when we end an obsession with changing the unchangeable, we can put that energy into other work, activities and relationships that we deeply care about. People with chronic pain begin to see that they are so much more than their pain, their thoughts, their stories, their beliefs and their feelings about the pain.
Professional counselling can also help people with chronic pain to focus their attention on that which they can control. When you regain a sense of control over your life, this in turn has positive outcomes for life satisfaction, a sense of well being, purpose, meaning, and achievement. You can live a life of meaning despite having chronic pain. Evidence continues to grow for the effectiveness of psychotherapy in the treatment of chronic pain. You can learn new skills and coping mechanisms to transform your life. You can learn to change the way you relate to your pain so that you can experience your life more fully — according to what you value. You no longer have to let chronic pain dictate your life; you can get yourself back into the driver’s seat. You can learn to take a more active role in your life rather than allowing the pain to drain your life away.
Ann Marie is a therapist who practices in Waterloo and specializes in chronic pain management.