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Living with Chronic Pain

chronic illness chronic pain psychologist rare disease Dec 03, 2015

Living with Chronic Pain

By Melissa Geraghty, Psy.D.

Chronic pain is defined as pain that does not dissipate within 3 to 6 months after an injury. It can be unrelenting and very disabling, both physically and psychologically. Chronic pain can further by complicated by acute pain (short-term pain that has an identifiable cause) or breakthrough pain (intense periods of pain). Fibromyalgia (FM), Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), Neuropathy, Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), Multiple Sclerosis (MS), and Cancer-Related Pain, are a few examples of diagnoses in which people suffer with chronic pain.

Having chronic pain is one of the most difficult challenges a person can experience as it impacts a person at a biopsychosocialspiritual level. This means that a person is impacted biologically, psychologically, socially, and spiritually– thus all facets of a person’s life are affected. The psychological suffering that goes along with chronic pain can be profound. Because of this, many people with chronic pain alter their life in some way to accommodate their pain. However, the more a person struggles with or attempts to control their pain, the more their pain gains control of their life. Therapy for chronic pain includes psychoeducation about pain in addition to learning extensive coping skills so that a person’s psychological suffering is lessened.

Many people with chronic pain are told by doctors or loved ones that their pain is “all in their head”, that they are exaggerating their pain, and that they should “just get over it”. Friends and family members may become frustrated as they do not know how to help, and in turn they can become angry and make invalidating comments to the person with pain. Psychological support is crucial when dealing with chronic pain. A person with chronic pain is not only dealing with friends and family members who may not fully understand, but is also dealing with the stress of attending medical appointments and figuring out which medical options are best. This combination is often overwhelming. Pain psychologists help clients learn how to cope with psychological and medical stressors, how to become a self-advocate, and how to accept areas in life that cannot be controlled, among many other important concepts.

It is extremely important to obtain a clinical pain team that has been properly trained in chronic pain. Many healthcare professionals are not qualified to work with people with chronic pain yet they continue to do so despite the ethical standard to refer out to specialized pain professionals. Having an inadequately trained team can cause emotional turmoil and increased physical suffering. A specialized pain team may include a physiatrist, an orthopedic surgeon, a physical therapist, and a clinical health psychologist, to name a few. It is crucial that your clinical pain team communicates with one another to ensure that you are receiving the best support at all levels of care.

Dr. Melissa Geraghty is a pain specialist with years of experience helping people cope with chronic pain and other medical issues in a productive and healthy way. Dr. Geraghty has chronic pain and other physical disabilities, therefore she understands firsthand the challenges pain brings to daily life. Dr. Geraghty provides unconditional compassion and understanding by assisting people with chronic pain, and their families, in living life to the fullest despite pain levels.

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