Cognitive behavioural therapy

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When pain persists for a long time and does not go away, it is understandable that you might feel angry, frustrated, worried or hopeless. These feelings are triggered by many things, including automatic and conscious thoughts that pass through the mind, such as “My pain will never go away”, “I will never be able to do the things I want” or “Nothing helps my pain.” However, these negative thoughts are often not accurate. In fact, in many cases they make your pain worse, and make you feel less capable of coping with your pain.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a type of treatment that helps you to recognize negative thoughts about your pain and change these thoughts. Research shows that CBT is one of the most effective treatments for chronic pain.

The theory behind CBT is that our thoughts influence our feelings and, in turn, our feelings influence our behaviours. So by helping you review and change your thoughts, CBT can also help you to positively change your emotions related to pain and improve your coping strategies. All of these things help you to better manage your pain, which is the real goal of this program. See below for an image showing how what you think, what you do and how you feel are all related and can be affected by each other.

cognitive behaviour therapy

CBT also plays an important role in managing other problems related to having chronic pain, such as:

  • managing sleep problems
  • reducing fear of movement and activity
  • reducing stress
  • improving mood
  • helping you feel more confident in your ability to achieve goals
  • improving your relationships
  • improving your performance at school and work.

Cognitive behavioural therapy is often done with the help of a therapist, who can offer support with identifying and adapting negative thoughts and setting goals for practising certain behaviours, for example doing physical activity to relieve pain. A therapist may also teach various techniques that you can use on your own, such as different types of relaxation and distraction. You will learn more about these over the following pages.


Hospital for Sick Children Chronic Pain Clinic. Psychological treatments.​ [Accessed April 19, 2016]

Last updated: May 2nd 2016