February 19, 2014

Chronic Pain Relief More Likely When Psychological Science Involved

Psychologists play primary role in chronic pain treatment, comprehensive review finds

WASHINGTON — When it comes to chronic pain, psychological interventions often provide more relief than prescription drugs or surgery without the risk of side effects, but are used much less frequently than traditional medical treatments, according to a comprehensive review published by the American Psychological Association.

“Chronic pain affects 116 million American adults, making it more prevalent than heart disease, diabetes and cancer combined, and traditional medical approaches are inadequate,” said Mark P. Jensen, PhD, of the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine at the University of Washington. Jensen was the scholarly lead for the review, published in the February-March issue of American Psychologist® APA’s flagship journal. “This review highlights the key role that psychologists have had — and continue to have — in the understanding and effective treatment of chronic pain.”

Articles in the special issue describe how psychology addresses racial and ethnic disparities in the assessment and treatment of chronic pain, persistent pain in older adults and family influences on children’s chronic pain. Also discussed is a range of successful treatment approaches for chronic pain, including cognitive behavioral therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy, mindfulness and hypnosis. Other articles examine how neurophysiology can help tailor treatments for specific cases and how interdisciplinary chronic pain management is most likely to lead to effective outcomes when health care teams include psychologists and coordinate services.  

“The more we learn, the more the field of chronic pain treatment recognizes the critical contribution of psychologists,” said Jensen. “This may be due to the fact that psychologists’ expertise about the brain, behavior and their interaction is at the heart of both the problem of and the solution to chronic pain.” 

Chronic pain (PDF, 91KB) is also among health concerns featured in APA’s new Center for Psychology and Health briefing series. “The series draws upon scientific research to demonstrate psychology’s essential role in primary and integrated health care,” said APA CEO Norman B. Anderson, PhD, director of the center and editor of American Psychologist. “In addition to providing behavioral assessments and treatment that give people skills to manage chronic conditions, psychologists can conduct assessments that differentiate normal processes from illness and address medication side effects, adjustment reactions or combinations of these.”

The American Psychologist articles, authors and contact information for the review are: 

Contributions of Psychology to the Understanding and Treatment of People with Chronic Pain (PDF, 215KB)
Why it Matters to ALL Psychologists
Mark P. Jensen, PhD, and Dennis C. Turk, PhD, University of Washington
Contact Jensen by email or by phone at (206) 543-3185


Interdisciplinary Chronic Pain Management (PDF, 156KB)
Past, Present, and Future
Robert J. Gatchel, PhD, ABPP, University of Texas at Arlington; Donald D. McGeary, PhD, and Cindy A. McGeary, PhD, University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio; and Ben Lippe, M.S., University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center
Contact Gatchel by email or by phone at (817) 272-2541

Racial/Ethnic Disparities in the Assessment and Treatment of Pain (PDF, 162KB)
Psychosocial Perspectives
Raymond C. Tait, PhD, and John T. Chibnall, PhD, Saint Louis University School of Medicine
Contact Tait by email or by phone at (314) 977-2047


Family and Parent Influences on Pediatric Chronic Pain (PDF, 141KB)
A Developmental Perspective
Tonya M. Palermo, PhD, University of Washington and Seattle Children’s Research Institute; Cecelia R. Valrie, PhD, East Carolina University; Cynthia W. Karlson, PhD, University of Mississippi Medical Center
Contact Palermo by email or by phone at (206) 884-7591


Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Individuals with Chronic Pain (PDF, 149KB)
Efficacy, Innovations, and Directions for Research
Dawn M. Ehde, PhD, Tiara M. Dillworth, PhD, and Judith A. Turner, PhD, University of Washington
Contact Ehde by email or by phone at (206) 744-6084


Hypnotic Approaches for Chronic Pain Management (PDF, 123KB)
Clinical Implications of Recent Research Findings
Mark P. Jensen, PhD, and David R. Patterson, PhD, University of Washington School of Medicine
Contact Jensen by email or by phone at (206) 543-3185

Psychological Pain Interventions and Neurophysiology (PDF, 87KB)
Implications for a Mechanism-Based Approach
Herta Flor, PhD, Central Institute of Mental Health, Mannheim, Germany, and Heidelberg University
Contact Flor by email or by phone at +49 (0) 621 1703 6302


Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and Mindfulness for Chronic Pain (PDF, 104KB)
Model, Process, and Progress
Lance M. McCracken, PhD, King’s College London and Guy’s and St. Thomas’ NHS
Foundation Trust, London, England; and Kevin E. Vowles, PhD, University of New Mexico
Contact McCracken by email or by phone at +44 (0) 207 1885 410


Overview of Persistent Pain in Older Adults (PDF, 125KB)
Ivan R. Molton, PhD, and Alexandra L. Terrill, PhD, Department of Rehabilitation Medicine, University of Washington Medical Center
Contact Molton by email or by phone at (206) 598-4295

The American Psychological Association, in Washington, D.C., is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States. APA's membership includes more than 134,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 54 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance the creation, communication and application of psychological knowledge to benefit society and improve people's lives.