Chronic pain conditions are some of the least understood, and most devastating for sufferers. Some of the most common include Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), Fibromyalgia (FM) or Myofascial Pain Syndrome (MPS), Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) and Osteoarthritis (OA), low back pain, sciatica, headache and migraines, and neuropathy, but the list goes on and on.
The American Pain Foundation reports that at least 50 million Americans suffer from chronic pain conditions. While some of these have known causes—injuries or trauma, infections, surgery—others are still a mystery. No matter the cause, however, chronic pain can be incredibly difficult to treat. For example, even when the cause is known, treating the underlying condition doesn’t always reverse the pain.
Living with pain is exhausting, both mentally and physically. The physical pain is often compounded by social and emotional pain—the pain of being ignored or brushed off by friends, family, and even medical professionals who don’t take the pain seriously; the pain of being left out, of being unable to participate in activities you once enjoyed. Individuals with chronic pain conditions are much more likely to experience depression and anxiety, problems with memory and concentration, and increased strain in their relationships.
Medical treatment, such as pain medication, surgery, physical therapy, and other options don’t work for everyone, and are not accessible for everyone. But research has shown over and over that chronic pain sufferers can benefit from mental health counseling—in fact, those who suffer from chronic pain conditions typically experience the best results when combining medical treatment with counseling or psychotherapy.
The most obvious way counseling can help is by addressing any underlying depression, anxiety, or other mental health concerns. Whether they came before or after the chronic pain condition, depression and anxiety can keep even able-bodied individuals from engaging in life fully and meaningfully. By addressing fears, worries, and the grief that comes with the loss of physical health, counseling can help ease the effects of depression and anxiety.
Counseling is not a quick and easy fix. In fact, the research thus far indicates that while mental health treatment can help those with chronic pain live more fulfilling lives, it often doesn’t directly impact the level of pain. Still, counseling can assist those with chronic pain conditions to discover what is truly meaningful and important in their lives, and find new ways to live full, value-centered lives.
Chronic pain may be a part of your life; but you do not need to let it define you.