Introduction to Pain Management & Psychology

Mental health issues (including Pain Management) still remains a taboo topic of discussion in Australia (and around the world) and there is little understanding about the help that is available.  With mental health week approaching next week from the 5th – 12th October I thought it would be important to clarify some common misconceptions that get in the way of people accessing help.

October is Mental Health Month in NSW and it’s part of a national mental health promotion campaign. World Mental Health Day is marked each year on the 10th October.
For more information on mental health week visit: http://www.abc.net.au/mentalas

Did you know that one in five (20%) Australians aged 16-85 experience a mental illness in any year? Almost half of all Australians (45%) will experience a mental illness in their lifetime (1). YET 65% of people with mental illness do not access any treatment (2,3).

Some common misconceptions of Psychology:

1) Only crazy people see therapists!
Emotional pain is a part of life. If experiencing emotional pain means you are crazy, then almost everyone will be crazy at some stage in their life. Including me!

2) It doesn’t work!
Well maybe not at first. But most people report great benefit once they have committed to the treatment program. Timeframes vary from person to person.

3) Therapists get paid to listen to my problems!
Yes, but listening is the tip of the ice burg.  Most therapists have extensive training to diagnose and treat emotional symptoms.

4) Seeking help is a sign of weakness!
Many of us don’t consider seeking help for physical health as a weakness. So how come we don’t think the same about seeking help for mental health?

5) Therapy will cost a lot of $$$!
Yes this can often be the case. However with the assistance of Medicare funding, people can access up to 10 sessions with a psychologist bulk billed per year.

 So what should you expect when you see a psychologist?

Most therapists are not like what you see on TV or in the movies. They may tell you things that you don’t want to hear, but it is not their role to blame and shame you; Nor is it their role to nod their head without comment. Talking to a therapist is different to talking to a friend. You will be asked questions, and you may even be asked to talk about your past (not always) and this it is done in a safe way, in order for you to identify patterns in your your thoughts, feelings and behaviours.

Some of the common reasons people may see a psychologist are:
  • relationship problems
  • substance abuse
  • coping with an illness
  • work stress
  • eating disorders
  • learning problems
  • sleep problems
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • and importantly, wanting to live a better quality of life.

Help us spread the word! Help for mental illness is often necessary, is available, it can be affordable, and most importantly it is OK.    If you need help, see your doctor or call lifeline on …..13 11 44 or click here https://www.lifeline.org.au/

What is chronic pain?

Many people think that pain goes away once an injury has healed. However, for a large number of people (in Australia, 1 in 5 people) the pain does not go away despite treatment efforts. This pain is called chronic pain because it persists beyond the normal healing time of an injury.

The international association for the study of pain defines pain as “an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage.” Pain is something we all experience however, we all experience it differently. We have a different experience of the pain intensity and we have a different experience of the pain characteristics (eg burning, dull, aching). When a pain signal is sent up to our brains, our brains decide what to pay attention to and what to do about that signal. However, the way our brain decides to do this differs between individuals and thus when dealing with chronic pain individualised programs are needed.

The role of psychology in chronic pain

Historically pain was considered as a result of an underlying medical condition and would be treated with a medical approach. For a large number of people this did not alleviate the pain symptoms. Clients in chronic pain are often searching for long time relief, which becomes a hope rather than a reality. This can create feelings of helplessness, anxiety, fear and depression, and can impact work, family, relationships, financial situations and quality of life, which are all neglected in a medical only treatment approach. Modern scientific research shows that not only is pain processed in the brain but improving coping skills through psychological intervention gives people a greater chance of success in managing their pain.

Some of the concerns addressed in Pain management psychology include:
  • Improving memory
  • Improving Decision making
  • Discussing attitudes and beliefs
  • Addressing stress, fears, anxiety, depression and grief
  • Personal growth
  • Sleep
  • Eating and weight control problems
  • Medication dependency
 The need for a combined physical & psychological approach in chronic pain management

Often there isn’t a cure for chronic pain however it is possible to manage the pain and improve the quality of life both physically and psychologically. At bounceREHAB, Pain management is less about treating a specific body part and more about treating our clients in their entirety. The combined approach means that our clients have a professional TEAM who collaborate, liaise with other health professionals and develop a pain management program specific to the individual needs. At bounceREHAB most clients with chronic pain begin with a combined pain management assessment with both a psychologist and a physiotherapist present. This session is then followed by a combination of combined and individual sessions depending on what the client needs.
Psychological sessions will focus on:
Pain management education, goal setting, counselling, acceptance, behavioural change and self-management coping strategies. Physiotherapy sessions will include graded exercise, flare up planning, manual handling tutorials and manual therapy.

 How to access treatment

You do not need a doctors referral to access pain management treatment at bounceREHAB. Typically people will book in for a combined assessment however, you can decide to book an individual session with either a psychologist or physiotherapist to discuss your pain management needs. Note that mental health care plans through Medicare and HICAPS are accepted at bounceREHAB . Click on the link below for more information or call 02 9571 7606.

http://www.bouncerehab.com.au/services/pain-management
http://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/content/0F792912834609B4CA257BF0001B74FA/$File/patients2.pdf

 References:

(1) Australian Bureau of Statistics (2009). National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing: Summary of Results, 4326.0, 2007. ABS: Canberra.
(2) Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2007). The Burden of Disease and Injury in Australia. AIHW: Canberra.
(3) Commonwealth of Australia (2010). National Mental Health Report 2010. Canberra, Australia.

 

Paula Leocata
PSYCHOLOGIST
BSc Adv. Sci. (Psychology) (Honours)