The Pain Psychology Center is a facility specializing in the treatment of chronic pain.
Recent studies have shown that chronic back pain, neck pain, fibromyalgia symptoms, repetitive strain injury, headaches, and other forms of chronic pain are often not the result of structural causes, but of psychophysiologic processes that can be reversed1,2,3
Though the pain can be addressed psychologically, this does not imply that the pain is imaginary. In fact, brain imaging studies have demonstrated that the pain is quite real.4 Recent research has shown that pain is often the result of learned neural pathways in the brain.5 And just as pain can be learned, it can also be unlearned.
Dr. John Sarno of the New York University Medical Center has referred to this condition as Tension Myoneural Syndrome (or TMS). For more information on this condition, see “Miracles of Mindbody Medicine,” written by co-founder, Alan Gordon.
This treatment approach has been featured on ABC’s 20/20 and Larry King Live, and has a high success rate in significantly reducing or eliminating chronic pain. For further information on these studies, visit our evidence page.
We use a two-pronged approach when working to eliminate symptoms. First, we work to toward changing one's relationship with the pain. Reframing the meaning of the symptoms often serves to break the pain cycle. The following article discusses the role that reinforcement plays in perpetuating symptoms and the video below introduces the concept of conditioned responses.
Next, we address what’s going on beneath the surface. Often the abusive or neglectful way that we treat ourselves, consciously and unconsciously, can lead to the development of symptoms.
People often have the tendency to criticize, scare, or put pressure on themselves. Learning to recognize, care about, and change the way that you treat yourself can help alleviate symptoms. An example of this can be found in the following session excerpt. Pay particular attention to the stance Brandon takes toward himself, the shift in his attitude, and the subsequent alleviation of his symptoms.*
Frequently, feelings (such as anger, guilt, or sadness) arise that are difficult to consciously tolerate. This is known as repression. To avoid these uncomfortable feelings, our minds often employ defense mechanisms like pain or anxiety. Treatment often involves helping patients access repressed emotions, which can get to the heart of the symptoms. The following four minute session excerpt demonstrates the relationship between repressed anger and anxiety.
Many of us were never truly soothed growing up or comforted when we were scared. Subsequently we grow up feeling on a primitive level that the world isn’t safe. Living in this state of "fight or flight" can result in the development of pain or anxiety. Learning to comfort yourself, not with logic or rationale, but on an emotional level can help teach this primitive part of you that you’re safe, thus reducing symptoms.
The following session excerpt with Mandi exemplifies this concept.
These are simply several examples, and are not meant to serve as a comprehensive overview of our approach. Although therapists at the Pain Psychology Center follow a general model, treatment is specifically tailored for each patient based on individual needs.
Castro WH, Meyer SJ, Becke ME, Nentwig CG, Hein MF, Ercan BI et al. (2011). No stress - no whiplash? Prevalence of ‘whiplash’ symptoms following exposure to a placebo rear-end collision. International Journal of Legal Medicine, 114, 316-22.
Bigos SJ, Battié MC, Fisher LD et al. (1991) A prospective study of work perceptions and psychosocial factors affecting the report of back injury. Spine, 16(1),1-6.
Baliki MN, Petre B, Torbey S, Herrmann KM et al. (2012) Corticostriatal functional connectivity predicts transition to chronic back pain. Natture Neuroscience 15, 1117-1119.
Derbyshire SW, Whalley MG, Stenger VA, Oakley DA. (2004) Cerebral activation during hypnotically induced and imagined pain. Neuroimage 23(1), 392-401.
Wager, T., Atlas, L., Lindquist, M., Roy, M., Woo, C.W., M.A., Kross, E. (2013) An fMRI-Based Neurologic Signature of Physical Pain. New England Journal of Medicine 368, 1388-1397.
*All participants consented to recording and reproduction of audio clips.