Just like other psychotherapy groups, not all chronic pain groups are the same. Some of them are led by mental health professionals, some of them are peer support groups. Some groups actually make members feel worse because they focus on the dark side of chronic pain without offering any solutions. How do you find the right chronic pain group?
First, find a facilitator who understands the Gate Control Theory of Pain. Ron Melzack and Patrick Wall (1962) proposed a new way of thinking about pain. Its not just that tissue is damaged and a pain signal is set off, but rather there are gates in the nervous system that can make the pain feel worse if they are open, and better if they are closed. For example, depression and anxiety open the gates, making pain worse.
Second, find a group that focuses on active coping strategies. Active coping strategies allow individuals with chronic pain to lower their pain levels (by controlling their pain gates) and live a fulfilling life. Active skills can be used independently and at any time.
Third, find a group facilitator who understands opioids. Often many physicians treat chronic pain as if it is acute pain, meaning that they treat it as if it will resolve within 3 months. Chronic pain many go on for years or a lifetime, and it is challenging to continue to prescribe opioids for that long. If group members are interested in reducing their opioids, they will need more active coping strategies to replace the medications.
Finally, find a group with a facilitator who understands the biopsychosocial model. This facilitator will understand the complex interplay between the patient’s injury/illness, psychological factors (such as beliefs about disability, fear, depression) and social factors (such as how their family inadvertently reinforces behavior that limits their functioning).
Just because you are living with chronic pain does not mean that your life is over.With active coping strategies, support and accurate information, a person can still lead a meaningful life with pain. The right chronic pain group can help.