Group Therapy Beneficial for Chronic Pain

 

By Cary Collins

According to the American Pain Foundation, there are more that 80,000 Americans suffering from chronic pain, which can lead to hopelessness, depression, anger, grief, loss of self-esteem and anxiety disorders. Living with this day-to-day pain can affect life on many levels. Sufferers may lose their jobs, experience financial hardship, lose interest in normal activities and have increased stress within their families and personal relationships. They may also have to contend with the unpleasant side effects of pain killers and other medication and experience digestive upset, weight gain and lethargy. It is easy to feel isolated, judged and out of control.

Research has shown that group therapy can be effective in managing all types of chronic pain. Oftentimes family, friends and colleagues do not understand what it’s like to live with chronic pain. When people come together with a similar issue, it can be a huge catalyst for healing. With a social support system, friendships are formed and hope can be found by benefiting from others’ stories. These powerful connections can allow pain sufferers to become vulnerable in a safe, non-judgmental environment where they can express thoughts, feelings and concerns.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Changes Thoughts

Research also indicates that psycho-educational groups using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy greatly reduces pain levels as well as depression, anxiety and disability, compared to control groups. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy involves identifying, evaluating and changing negative, unrealistic and unhelpful thoughts, beliefs and images. Chronic pain sufferers may have detrimental beliefs about their pain, such as “I can’t control my pain” or “If may pain increases I must be doing further permanent damage to myself.” They may also view themselves as weak, unlovable or incompetent.

Group therapy helps pain sufferers to change their negative thoughts in relation to their pain, the effects it has on their life and other stressors. It can enhance communication and problem-solving skills so relationships can be healed and new ones formed. People with chronic pain can gain empathy for others and become more compassionate toward themselves. Being a part of a group affords encouragement and motivation from others and a myriad of solutions.

Mastering Skills for Pain Management

One Charlotte woman says working with a group of people with similar problems has helped her live a happier and useful life. “Group Therapy allows me to share my story with others who have suffered greatly in a safe, supportive environment,” she says. “It helps me understand that neither I nor my problems are unique and that I am not struggling alone. When I share my problems, others in the group share their experience, strength and hope with me. They have differing viewpoints, and may have already found solutions for the problem I am facing. In the rare event that I encounter an issue not previously faced by others in the group, they willingly help me to know I don’t have to walk through difficult situations alone.”

Group therapy assists patients in mastering skills for pain management and stress and learning how to mobilizing those skills during periods of increased stress and pain. They are encouraged to set and discuss the goals they hope to achieve. The group can help them identify unrealistic expectations and engage them in taking the first steps towards†self-efficacy.

Chronic pain sufferers can begin to gain control of their lives again by giving and receiving in the group environment. With less anxiety, depression and pain, increased socialization can occur. Supportive group therapy is cost and time efficient as well. Group sessions generally last longer than individual therapy sessions for approximately half the cost.

Cary Collins is the owner and the psychotherapist at Seasons of Healing Counseling Services in Southeast Charlotte. She can be reached at 704-860-6944. For more information visit www.seasons-of-healing.com.

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