So you’ve been referred to a pain psychologist?

Sometimes people feel daunted or upset by the idea of seeing a psychologist in relation to their pain problem. This is something that we hear a lot, and so we have put together this document to offer some more information.

What is a clinical psychologist?

Clinical psychologists complete an undergraduate degree in psychology and then a three year doctorate in clinical psychology.  We get training in therapy, but also in research techniques, complex assessment, training and supervising other professionals.  We do not prescribe medication – that is the domain of psychiatrists.

  • Firstly, let us reassure you that we believe that your pain is real. Your pain is not “all in your head“, “emotional pain” or “psychological pain”.
  • It is a team effort.  You know you better than anyone.  We know some stuff about psychology.  Whilst we might sometimes wish we had a magic wand, we use ways of thinking that have been scientifically proven and are recommended by research. We definitely cannot read your mind!!!
  • Clinical Psychologists do not typically ‘diagnose’ a mental health condition, as psychiatrists would.  Together, we build a picture of our understanding of the pain problem – it’s a bit like piecing together a jigsaw.  We might look at how life looked before the pain, your thoughts, feelings, beliefs and emotions.  We tend to think about how our life experiences have shaped us in to who we are.
  • For example, perhaps you are someone who has always set very high expectations for yourself, and now it is very difficult to pace your activity that your mind wants to do, but your body can’t.  Or maybe because of difficult life events you have always coped in a particular way, but now the pain stops you from doing that.
  • Being in pain and having to ‘live with it’, at least for now, can feel a bit like being in a tunnel without a torch or a rucksack.  Our goal is to sit in the tunnel with you, and teach you the skills that will help you see your way forwards.
  • We always do this from a non-judgemental position and we are bound by strict rules around confidentiality – that means that we do not share the details of what we talk about with others, unless we were very worried you might come to harm.
  • Following an injury or an accident, around 30% of individuals will have symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), though these symptoms often resolve gradually without help. This is not something reserved for soldiers returning home from the war and it is not always related to the severity of the accident.  We know that pain and trauma have very similar ways of presenting themselves and therefore we often need to treat these together.
  • Even where there are no symptoms of PTSD, we know that having a persistent pain problem can be incredibly stressful. Stress and pain have a close relationship and where we can help people to manage their stress differently, this can sometimes help people manage their pain differently.
  • We believe that knowledge is power.  Our pain psychologists have done lots of extra training specifically to work with people who have experienced trauma, and we have lots of knowledge to offer about the most up to date science of pain.
  • Adjusting to life with a pain problem, where perhaps your recovery is uncertain, can be very difficult.  It’s a bit like someone shaking up the snowglobe and you are waiting for the scenery to settle so you know what you are looking at.  Sometimes, the scenery has settled and you do not like at all what you are looking at.  We are here to help you on this journey, by thinking about what is important to you and how you can live in line with these important things, even with a persistent pain problem.
  • And if you are not sure any of this is for you, we are always happy to have a chat before you decide.