APA Center for Psychology and Health briefing document highlights psychology’s role in managing chronic pain

Newest health care briefing sheet shows how psychological interventions are an alternative to drugs and surgery for many people experiencing chronic pain.

Approximately 116 million Americans are burdened by chronic pain. For these individuals, pain often diminishes their quality of life, their work productivity and family relationships. In addition, unmanaged pain has a high economic impact both locally and nationally due to the demands it places on the health care infrastructure and the cost of care. Furthermore, the opioid medications often used to treat pain can lead to a host of problems including misuse, addiction and overdose.

Psychological interventions offer vital alternatives to the way pain is currently treated. For example, cognitive behavioral therapy and self-regulatory therapy have been shown to be effective treatments for pain and don’t carry the negative side effects that drugs or surgery often do.

Research has shown that psychological interventions for pain are also safe and cost effective. Unfortunately, they are also underused.

“Psychological interventions offer an effective and positive alternative to drugs and surgery for many people experiencing chronic pain,” said Norman B. Anderson, PhD, APA CEO and director of the APA Center for Psychology and Health. “APA’s goal is to reach out to other health professionals and the public to make patients and their providers aware of the options for pain treatment based in good psychological practice.”

The APA Center for Psychology and Health is helping to raise awareness of the importance of psychology and psychologists to the nation’s health. Most people are aware of psychology’s role in improving mental health but might not realize that psychology also focuses on the interface of health and behavior. The center will continue to produce materials to educate the public, health care providers and policymakers about psychology’s essential role in promoting health. The center developed a set of briefing sheets with the APA Interdivisional Healthcare Committee in 2013 — on a wide range of health care topics. The first covered psychology’s roles on integrated health care teams (PDF, 100KB). The second in the series focuses on how psychologists help treat chronic pain (PDF, 91KB). Other briefing sheets will cover primary care, Alzheimer’s disease, breast cancer, heart disease and obesity. The complete set of briefing sheets will be accessible online and be accompanied by a series of podcasts. 

The center will continue to highlight the contributions of psychologists as health service providers, researchers and educators to improving America’s evolving health care system and work to enhance opportunities for their further involvement.  

“Our ultimate goal is to ensure that all Americans can benefit from a health care system that understands the important role of behavior in health, appreciates the value of psychological interventions and treats the whole person,” said Anderson. “Accomplishing that goal requires access to quality health care for everyone as well as an emphasis on integrated care teams — health professionals working together to treat the whole person.”