Categories Complementary Therapies for Musculoskeletal Problems

The psychology of pain


When we think about pain, we generally refer to a physical sensation. We must not forget, however, that the perception of pain is something very complex. In addition to the pure sensation of pain, in fact, there are emotional and psychological components. These are as important as the mechanisms that underlie the transmission of pain signals. This awareness drives us to deal with pain from different points of view. Especially in patients suffering from chronic pain, a good psychologist, or psychotherapist can do much to alleviate their situation.

The correlation between psychology and pain is also the basis of the success of drugs or treatments called “placebo”. These are cases where the mere awareness of having taken medication, helps the patient to heal, even if these do not contain active ingredients.

The correlation between psychology and pain perception is very important. In conditions where a patient experiences pain, perhaps chronic, a psychotherapist or a psychologist can do a lot. In fact, valid psychological support can alleviate the suffering of the sick person, and also promote the healing process.


What affects the perception of pain

In the Psychology of Pain study, Americans George R. Hansen and Jon Streltzer highlighted several factors that affect pain perception. We list some that show how pain perception can also depend on external factors.

  1. The context: the example of soldiers in battle who suffer serious injuries and perhaps report only a thicket of pain.
  2. Attention: Focusing on pain makes it worse. Focusing on the sensations of pain, makes them much more painful.
  3. Anxiety and fear: they contribute to increasing the patient’s perception of suffering.
  4. Memory: Those with low pain thresholds tend to remember pain as worse than when they experienced it.
  5. Pain learned: pain can be an learned response in certain situations, and it is felt even in its absence.
  6. Expectations: Expectations about how painful an experience will be affect the pain you feel.


Understanding how external factors can affect pain perception can help give relief to patients suffering from chronic pain. Clearly with the support of a psychologist or psychotherapist.

talking therapy

How can the psychologist intervene on pain

When we talk about pain psychology, we refer to the intervention of the psychotherapist or a good psychologist to support a patient and help him feel better. There are different approaches based on cognitive schools, for example we have models of the school of cognitive behavioural psychotherapy. They practice different techniques for the psychology of pain, such as the diversion of attention, imaginative transformation or context.

In addition to patients living sickness situations associated with chronic pain, there are also patients where pain has a psychological nature. These patients tend to look for a drug therapy. But precisely in these cases a path with the psychotherapist is the most suitable.

Although the work of psychoanalysts, psychologists and psychotherapists is different, the intervention of pain psychology has some firm points. These relate to the reception of pain, the active listening of the patient, the verbalization of pain. It is important that the psychologist believes the patient, and that he does not challenge him, blocking communication. It is also important not to trivialize, nor to deny the feelings of pain reported by patients.

The importance of psychotherapy in pain management is now widely recognized. Psychological treatments and psychotherapy are applied not only in cases of severe patients with chronic pain. A very important area of application is that of post-operative rehabilitation. These paths can act on 3 different levels:

As a cure for possible psychopathological problems, such as depression

For the improvement of the psychological aspects of the patient

It is for the reduction of perceived pain.

A joint path between doctors and psychotherapists will enable the processing and effectiveness of pain therapy. This is why the role of a psychologist in a multidisciplinary team is crucial.

Where to loook for help

Cristina Rossi MD, a highly respected clinical psychologist and psychotherapist in Genoa Italy, recommends that you look for the National Association of Psychologists in the country where you live. Only a properly trained and regulated psychotherapist can help you on your way to recovery.

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