Do you feel depressed with your pain?

People who live with chronic pain often experience mental health issues including depression, anxiety and problems sleeping¹. It is useful for people who suffer with chronic pain to see a psychologist; for treatment of the pain itself and for any other mental health issues that may be present. This is important because mental health issues may exist because of the chronic pain, or they may be helping to make the pain worse. Treatment by a psychologist may lead to the experience of less chronic pain.

Do you struggle with pain and stress about the impact it has on your life?

Psychologists may work with clients to reduce their chronic pain by teaching them relaxation strategies. A variety of methods can be used to assist the chronic pain sufferer by helping to reduce tension in the muscles, which can increase pain symptoms³. A psychologist may encourage the person who suffers with chronic pain to think differently about their pain in an attempt to reduce the pain over time. The presence of pain does not always mean there is something wrong and it is important for sufferers of chronic pain to acknowledge this and believe that they can get through it. Distraction can also be a useful tool in reducing chronic pain. The more a person thinks about their pain, the worse it tends to be. Therefore if sufferers of chronic pain can focus on something else and put the pain to the back of their mind, they can experience a reduction in symptoms as a result³.

Do you worry that your pain has control of your life?

Research has shown only modest benefits from traditional medical, pharmacological and surgical interventions in the treatment of chronic pain³. It is important when treating chronic pain, that the whole person is considered. “To treat pain effectively, you must address its physical, emotional and psychological aspects”². This is approach is referred to as the biopsychosocial model and is used by psychologists to treat chronic pain.

Are you interested in a non-opioid option to better manage your pain?

Psychologists can treat chronic pain in a number of different ways depending upon the needs of their patient. One of those tools is called Operant Conditioning, which describes the process whereby people and animals increasingly engage in behaviours which are accompanied by rewards. In the case of acute pain after an injury, the behaviour of resting is rewarding as it assists with pain reduction. However, if this behaviour continues after the injury has healed it may be problematic, as it may lead to physical deconditioning and muscle breakdown, contributing to the development and maintenance of chronic pain. The role of the psychologist in cases like this would be to recognise the persistence of this behaviour-reward relationship and work on strategies to break it down, such as ending the reward of pain behaviours (i.e. resting) and starting to reward well behaviours such as increases in strength or activity tolerance³.


[1] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) (2020). Chronic Pain in Australia.,%25)%20aged%2085%20and%20over. Date accessed: 21/6/2022.

[2] American Psychological Association (APA) (2013). Managing chronic pain: How psychologists can help with pain management. Date accessed: 21/6/2022.

[3] Jensen, M.P. & Turk, D. C. (2014). Contributions of psychology to the understanding and treatment of people with chronic pain. Why it matters to all psychologists. American Psychological Association, 69(2), p.105-118.