I’ve been a mental health provider for more than 30 years and a chronic pain sufferer for more than 15 years.
I recently wrote about my personal experience of living with chronic pain in a column in Hospital and Physician Update, a Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan newsletter for health care providers. I offered some recommendations for treating chronic pain, based on my research and experience, and wanted to share a few of these ideas here.
It sometimes seems that physicians and other health care providers don’t fully grasp how chronic pain affects everyday life. Chronic pain depletes your energy and diminishes the level of pleasure you take in daily events.
Here are just a few examples of activities that can exacerbate chronic pain:
- Brushing teeth
- Putting laundry into the washer or dryer
- Washing dishes
- Changing a bed
It’s important to let your doctor know exactly how chronic pain is affecting your daily life. Let him or her know you don’t expect your pain to be totally “numbed out.” You simply want to manage your pain better and resume your daily activities as much as possible.
More often than not, your doctor will offer medication. And that’s a good thing. I wouldn’t want to give up my medication; I use it when the pain level gets too high. But pain medication has side effects and sometimes can’t be taken every day.
Keep in mind that medication is a passive form of pain control. Proactive pain control measures are equally important.
Many pain sufferers have found relief through various activities, and I developed a checklist that physicians and mental health professionals can use to encourage patients to take a more active role in controlling their pain. Physicians can check off what they recommend and share the list with mental health professionals as part of a discussion of appropriate next steps. Mental health professionals can then use the list to report back to the physicians on the patient’s compliance and progress.
The bottom line is that patients need to be actively involved in their own pain management, and physicians and mental health professionals can help them become aware of these options. Seeing a mental health professional is an important adjunct to pain management since chronic pain can have a profound effect on daily life.
An article published by the American Psychological Association addresses how psychologists can help patients deal with chronic pain. Pain isn’t just a physical event. The best patient outcomes occur when the physician, mental health provider and the patient work closely together to improve the patient’s quality of life. For more information on how to take care of your mental health, including how to find the right provider for you, visit bcbsm.com/mentalhealth.
If you found this post helpful, you might also like:
- Taking a Psycho-Social Approach to Dealing with Chronic Pain
- Understanding Opioids and Their Effects
- Blue Cross Online Visits: Making Mental Health from Anywhere a Possibility
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Mary Franzen Clark, Ed.D., is a psychotherapist who has been in private practice for more than 30 years. She’s currently associate director of Alpha Psychological Services, P.C., and president of the Michigan Association of Professional Psychologists.