The field of pain management has come a long way in recent years, thanks to dedicated researchers investigating alternative therapies beyond pain medication. One of the recent breakthroughs in this field has been that of mental health treatment adjunctive to medication. Recent studies have shown the effectiveness of incorporating mental health services into pain management protocols, demonstrating that these services can dramatically improve patient outcomes, according to Dr. Narinder Grewal.
Mental Health Treatment in Pain Management
A study conducted by the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine was the first of its kind to look at the role of psychological services as part of an overall pain management strategy. Until the study was conducted, the medical community was relatively unaware of the benefits of mental health in combatting chronic pain conditions. The study’s findings were presented to the American Academy of Pain Medicine annual meeting in 2018.
In the study, researchers used a wide variety of data collection techniques and analyzed data pools from electronic health records, patient surveys, and information from the Collaborative Health Outcomes Information Registry. Patients that had visited a pain psychologist on at least three occasions were compared to a large control group matched by pain duration and intensity along with demographic factors, but who didn’t access mental health professionals as part of their pain treatment. Data was collected over a 12-month study period.
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Findings of the University of Pittsburgh Study
In the study, patients that had utilized the services of a psychological counselor as part of pain management therapy reported significant improvements, not only in the shorter duration of pain symptoms but a decrease in intensity. Those patients also experienced substantial improvements in sleep quality, overall function, and mental health status. Psychologists working in the pain management field typically use one or more pain-focused treatment protocols, including:
- Relaxation training and therapy
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy
- Coping skills training
- Pain education
- Acceptance and commitment training
The study pointed to several surprising factors. As compared to the control group of over 7600 patients, those patients utilizing psychological services in their pain treatments were more likely to be female, to have access to Medicaid insurance, and to be black or another minority. Those patients also had higher initial levels of pain, poor motor function, and higher levels of depression and/or anxiety. The study demonstrated that even these patients, facing significant struggles in their pain levels and related symptoms, could make substantial improvements in their outcomes with the intervention of mental health professionals.
Further study is warranted, but for now, the pain management community welcomes the findings of the University of Pittsburgh study. Many pain management clinics across the country have incorporated alternative treatment therapies such as flexibility training, yoga, and non-prescription pain relief protocols. Mental health treatment is a valuable and effective addition to the overall pain management strategy, helping to improve patients’ lives while reducing the dependence those patients may develop on potentially harmful opioid pain medications.