“I know this is going to lead to a pain flare-up.”
“I’ll never get better.”
“I might as well just cancel now — I won’t make it anyway.”
“My husband hates me.”
“My friends are sick of me being sick.”
“Those doctors are just in it for the money; they don’t really care about me.”
What do all of these thoughts have in common? All of them are what are called “automatic thoughts,” and they can have a big effect on how we act and how we feel. Also, how we act and how we feel can have a big impact on how we think. According to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), our thoughts, actions, and feelings all interact with each other, and if we can change the way we think or act, we can change the way we feel.
CBT for Chronic Pain
If you have been dealing with pain for a long time, you know how it affects your mood, your activity level, and your life. You begin to get into thinking patterns that are not very helpful, such as the kind of thoughts that are at the top of this page, and you may find that you have gotten into patterns of activity or inactivity that are worsening your pain. We work on both the cognitive (thinking) and the behavioral (activity) aspects of pain in CBT.
Cognition: The “C” in CBT
Imagine how different you might feel if you could train yourself to think about your pain in a less negative way. For instance, what if, instead of your go-to thought being that you are definitely going to have a pain flare-up, you could think — “oh, this sensation that I’m feeling sometimes leads to a flare-up…” If you could change that thought, you would be more likely to be calm, which would decrease your anxiety about your pain, which would then make you less tense and your pain less likely to flare-up. It would also allow you to think about what could help in this situation, whether it’s taking a break, changing your position, applying heat or cold… whatever helps. When we change the way we think, we can open ourselves up to new ways of responding to situations.
Changing your Thoughts
It’s not easy to change your thoughts, and it doesn’t happen overnight. Cognitive therapy is different from just “thinking happy thoughts.” We work to identify the thoughts you are having and then figure out whether they are true and/or helpful. For those unhelpful thoughts that are not true and not helpful, we work together to figure out what is true and is helpful. For those thoughts that true and unhelpful, we look for ways to shift your focus away from them to thoughts that are true and helpful.
Changing Core Beliefs
Dealing with the unhelpful thoughts seldom stops at just the thoughts about the pain. Usually our negative thoughts come from deeply held negative core beliefs about ourselves or the world, and in order to stop those automatic thoughts before they start, we need to work on those beliefs. Of course, this is not work that everyone needs to do or is ready to do. We can have a big impact on your pain just by working on changing the automatic thoughts. But, for some people, changing their negative beliefs about themselves and the world to more positive ones is a very important way to create lasting change in the kind of automatic thoughts that they have. It can be helpful to use other modes of therapy to enhance the effectiveness of this work, like clinical hypnosis or EMDR.
Behavior: The “B” in CBT
In CBT, we don’t just work with the “C” part of CBT, that is, the cognitions or thought, we also work with the “B” part, that is, the behavior. Now, the term “behavior” often has a negative connotation, as in “bad behavior,” but in CBT, what we talk about when we discuss behavior is simply an individual’s actions. The interesting thing about chronic pain is that there are a lot of behaviors associated with it — some helpful, some not so helpful. When we use CBT for chronic pain, we look at your current activities and their impact on your mood and thoughts. We identify what is not helpful and make a plan to change it. We’ll use tools such as tracking your activities, your pain, and your mood to see what helps and what hurts.
Clinical Hypnosis to Supercharge CBT for Chronic Pain
Research shows that combining CBT with clinical hypnosis has an even greater effect on chronic pain and emotional distress than CBT alone. If you are open to using clinical hypnosis in your sessions, we can use the power of trance and suggestion to help cement the new, more helpful thoughts and behavior patterns into your brain, allowing you to implement your new beliefs and habits quickly so you can get back to living your life.
Work with an Expert
Many therapists use CBT techniques and skills in their work. This is helpful, but in order to get the full benefit from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, it’s important to work with someone who is grounded in the theory of CBT and shows proven competence in the model of CBT. I am a Diplomate of the Academy of Cognitive Therapy, which means that I have demonstrated to the Academy of Cognitive Therapy that I am a skilled cognitive therapist and have an advanced level of expertise in cognitive therapy.
If you are ready to change the way you think and act so that you can experience less pain and a better quality of life, give me a call at 651-998-8991 today, or click the “Request Appointment” button below to schedule your appointment now.