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What does a pain psychologist do?

Pain psychologists do a variety of things to support your pain treatment. There are several main things that a pain psychologist does: 


They translate pain science to your daily life

Pain psychologists stay up to date with the newest pain research available. However, that research is often written in ways that are difficult to apply to real life pain.

They know the right questions to ask

Pain psychologists know the right questions to ask about pain to get a clear picture of what it is like for you to be hurting every day, and how pain gets in the way of your life to inform your treatment. Often the first session with a pain psychologist focuses on gathering important information about you and your life. If you are under 18, this will include your parent or caregiver.

Pain psychologists translate science in order to empower people with pain to be experts on how their pain systems work and how to apply that information in daily life. 

Accurate information about how pain works can start the hard work of reducing pain.


They listen and treat you as an expert

Although there are many important ingredients to pain treatment, it is especially important to feel heard about your pain and all that comes with constantly battling pain. Being heard matters.

Also, they treat you as an expert in yourself and your experience, which together with their expertise makes a pretty powerful team. 

They teach you strategies to communicate with your nervous system

Pain works as an alarm system. Oftentimes with pain that has persisted over time, the 'alarm system' is not working correctly - and the result is pain. Therefore, communicating well with your 'alarm system' is key to getting it to work correctly. Pain psychologists teach strategies for you to master communication with your nervous system. These often include:

  • Relaxation skills

  • Changing automatic thought patters that maintain pain

  • Changing behavioral habits that maintain pain


They support you in your goals of reducing pain and living life in spite of pain

Although we wish that pain could be resolved immediately, very often the nervous system takes time to learn to work well. This process takes patience and continued effort without immediate pain relief, so a pain psychologist can support you through the process.

Oftentimes people with pain have challenges with one or more of the following:

  • Managing pain at work or school

  • Falling asleep, staying asleep. or feeling well rested

  • Pacing activities to reduce cycles of pain

  • Returning to physical activities

All areas of life including relationships, sleep, focus, mood, energy and many others are impacted by pain. Pain psychologists support your goals in all of these areas to improve your overall quality of life. 


Knowing what to expect when you see a pain psychologist can improve the experience for you. 

Below are some nuts and bolts of what to expect if you work with a pain psychologist:

  • The first session involves answering many questions; you may complete forms ahead of meeting with the psychologist - this is the assessment phase of better understanding your pain and experiences.

  • You will discuss and sign a form called Informed Consent - this reviews your rights while working with a psychologist, as well as any policies that pertain to your care.

  • Sometimes  as early as the first session, and through subsequent appointments, you will learn about pain, the nervous system, and how pain management strategies work.

  • You will learn new skills for managing pain in our daily life.

  • You will develop goals about pain and managing that are important to you. That way you can together monitor your progress and revise the pain as needed to reach your goals.

  • Throughout the process, you and the psychologist, together, will decide how many appointments will be best for you. For many people, within 4-8 appointments, you will feel more confident that you have the tools you need to manage pain. 

Online Resources

Websites for everyone about pain management:

Websites for children and parents:

Youtube videos about chronic pain for adults:

Youtube videos about chronic pain for children and teens:

Youtube videos about chronic pain for parents:

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Informative Reads

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Books for parents of children with chronic pain:

When Your Child Hurts: Effective Strategies to Increase Comfort, Reduce Stress, and Break the Cycle of Chronic Pain

By Rachael Coakley

Conquering You Child's Chronic Pain: A Pediatric Guide for Reclaiming a Normal Childhood  

By Zeltzer, Lonnie and Blackett Chlan, Christina.

Pain in Children and Young Adults: The Journey Back to Normal

By Lonnie Zeltzer

Books for teens with chronic pain:

Pain Is Really Strange  

By Steve Haines

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