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Pain Management Health Center

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Managing Chronic Pain: A Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy Approach

What You Can Expect

If you want to try CBT for pain management, first talk with your doctor. He or she may know of a cognitive behavioral therapist who specializes in chronic pain or be able to point you in the right direction.

Most cognitive behavioral therapy for pain control consists of weekly group or individual sessions lasting 45 minutes to two hours. Expect to attend between eight and 24 sessions, with possible “booster” sessions to refresh your skills.

“When you begin, the therapist will evaluate your pain, including the history and your current pain management methods,” says Katherine Muller, PsyD, director of the cognitive behavioral therapy program at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City.

Your doctor will also do a general psychological assessment to identify any issues that may be making the pain worse. “The therapist will then work with you to design a specific treatment plan,” Muller says.

Muller notes that CBT is usually covered by insurance. “However, in some cases, insurance companies won’t cover the treatment unless it is for pain AND a psychiatric diagnosis,” she says. Check with your insurance company about your individual coverage.

Finding a CBT Therapist

Cognitive behavioral therapy is an increasingly popular treatment for all kinds of problems, pain relief included. As a result, more and more professionals call themselves cognitive behavioral therapists these days, even when they don’t have the proper training. To find a legitimate cognitive behavioral therapist who can help with pain management, do the following:

  • Check for credentials. “CBT is a very specific technical skill taught in certification programs,” Hullett says. “So inquire about training so you can be confident the therapist knows what he or she is doing.”
  • Conduct an interview. “Ask the therapist to tell you about his or her approach to treatment,” Muller says. “And consider setting up an evaluation visit to see how comfortable you feel talking with him or her.”
  • Choose someone you like. “In studies of psychotherapy, the number one determinant of outcome is whether or not the patient likes his or her therapist,” Hullett says. So now matter how much you respect a therapist as a professional, if you don’t like him or her personally, find someone else.

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