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Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Pain Management

Treatment Overview

Cognitive-behavioral therapy , also called CBT, is a way to help you stay well or cope with a health problem by changing how you think. And how you think affects how you feel.

If you learn how to stop negative thoughts when they happen, you may be more able to care for yourself and handle life's challenges. You will feel better. And you may be more able to avoid or cope with stress, anxiety, and depression.  

CBT is a therapy that is often used to help people think in a healthy way. It focuses on thought (cognitive) and action (behavioral). CBT can help you notice the discouraging thoughts that make you feel bad. These thoughts are sometimes called irrational or automatic thoughts.

Using CBT, you can learn to stop these thoughts and replace them with helpful thoughts. This kind of thinking also involves calming your mind and body. You can use one or more techniques. These may include meditation, yoga, muscle relaxation, or guided imagery.

Many people work with a therapist or a counselor to learn CBT. But you also can practice on your own.

For more information, see Stop Negative Thoughts: Choosing a Healthier Way of Thinking.

What To Expect After Treatment

Cognitive-behavioral skills can change the way your mind influences your body. When you shift your thinking away from the pain and change your focus to more positive aspects of your life, you change the way your body responds to the anticipated pain and stress.

Why It Is Done

The goal of cognitive-behavioral therapy is to change the way you think about the pain so that your body and mind respond better when you have episodes of pain. Therapy focuses on changing your thoughts about illness and then helping you adopt positive ways of coping with illness. For cognitive-behavioral therapy to be most effective, work together with your counselor toward common goals.

How Well It Works

CBT can be helpful for chronic pain by changing the way you think about pain. It also teaches you how to become more active. This helps, because pain can also improve with appropriate physical activity, such as walking or swimming.

Risks

There are no risks associated with cognitive-behavioral therapy.

What To Think About

Whatever the reasons for improvement, it is clear that cognitive-behavioral therapy can be helpful for some people who have persistent pain. It has virtually none of the side effects that other treatments, such as medicines, can cause.

Complete the special treatment information form (PDF)(What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this treatment.

Related Information

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Nancy Greenwald, MD - Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
Last Revised January 9, 2013

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