Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is considered the most recommended and well-studied psychological treatment approach for chronic pain. The interaction between the patient’s cognition and behavior is addressed in the CBT method. Tools, such as learning to cope and direct thoughts into positive actions, are often discussed in the CBT approach.
CBT treatment can be distinguished from other psychological practices (mindfulness, operant-behavioral therapy, and acceptance therapy). It directs maladaptive behavior, integrates environmental and social factors, and teaches cognitive behaviors to reduce a patient’s experience of pain.
CBT therapy is a cognitive intervention program that includes education, relaxation practices, stress management, and coping skills training. During treatment, the patients receive a set of learning skills for self-observation. Therapists use thought exercises to improve overall functioning and modify maladaptive beliefs.
Behavioral strategies are applied to increase the awareness of thoughts and actions to better cope with pain symptoms. CBT treatment can be structured according to an individual’s specific goals, problem-solving abilities, and time limitations (# of sessions).
In a meta-analysis from 2012, researchers examined 35 studies, and 4,788 patients showed that CBT was effective for improving thinking, disability, and overall mood. Yet, the effect on pain reduction was not significant.
In another review study, the effect of CBT treatment on chronic pain was examined in 8 experimental studies from the last 5 years. Results indicated that the CBT method, combined with other therapeutic modalities, could improve the physical function of patients with chronic pain.
CBT is a well-studied and evidence-based treatment for mental disorders, such as:
- Posttraumatic stress disorder
- Panic disorder
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Eating disorders
- Low back pain
CBT is a useful psychotherapy treatment approach, and in some ongoing therapy cases, it can substitute for the administration of pain medication.