Cognitive behavioural therapy, or CBT, is a form of psychological therapy that helps the patient identify harmful thought and behaviour patterns and replace them by useful ones.

“CBT can help pain sufferers deal with common problems such as unhelpful beliefs or fears about pain and injury, avoidance of activities including work, depression or anxiety, as well as excessive reliance on pain medication,” says Ms Evangeline Tan Sue Lin, Principal Psychologist, Department of Psychiatry, Singapore General Hospital (SGH), a member of the SingHealth group.

Who is suitable for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) for pain management?

CBT for pain is commonly used to treat patients who suffer from chronic or persistent pain that impacts their physical, psychological, emotional, and social well-being. Chronic or persistent pain is defined as pain lasting more than six months or beyond the expected period for healing following an injury or surgery.

However, CBT at an earlier stage can also benefit patients by preventing the development of persistent pain and pain-related disability.

“Patients who are prepared to take a proactive role in the management of their pain and are willing to explore alternative ways of looking at their pain are suitable and would likely benefit from a course of CBT,” says Ms Tan.

How is CBT for pain typically carried out?

Cognitive behaviour therapy is a multi-step process.

  • Evaluating the pain
    This consists of gathering information about the pain, its history, current management methods and any issues that may worsen it.
  • Identifying unhelpful patterns
    Patients are helped to articulate the negative thoughts they harbour towards pain, e.g. “I will harm my body if I exercise and experience ongoing pain”.

Read on to learn how CBT helps in pain management.

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