Psychological therapies and how they work

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3Ps of pain management venn diagram

Psychological therapies can help people reduce pain by helping them manage stress, relax tense muscles and distract themselves from painful sensations. You may recall that psychological treatments are a vital component of the 3P approach​.

The goal of psychological treatments is to help you return to what you love to do and manage the impact of your pain in a healthy way. You can use them at home, school and at work to get your life back to as close to normal as possible, a key goal for any chronic (long-term) illness, including chronic pain.

This process involves:

  1. recognizing what you value most in life
  2. setting goals based on those life values
  3. making a plan based on those goals
  4. gently striving to follow that plan every day, gradually increasing what you are able to do.

When your healthcare team suggests using psychological approaches to manage your pain, it does not mean that they think your pain is “in your head” or imagined. Psychological methods are just one of the three essential approaches to managing pain effectively and are considered for all people with chronic pain.

healthcare professional talking with teen

How a psychologist can help you manage chronic pain

Psychologists are healthcare professionals who are trained to use different approaches and techniques to help people with chronic pain manage the impact of their pain and improve their quality of life.

By doing careful assessments tailored to each patient, psychologists can help you identify factors in your life that result from, and contribute to, chronic pain. After they identify specific factors, your psychologist will help you manage them by teaching you different pain and stress management techniques.

Psychological services may be free in tertiary care clinics (such as specialist clinics in a hospital), but they are often not free in private clinics.

Types of psychological therapies

All psychological therapies focus on both the mind and body. Some techniques, however, focus more on changing your thoughts and feelings while others focus on accepting certain experiences in your life so that you can move on to things that are important to you.

Like any skill worth learning, you will become better at using psychological therapies the more often you practise them. Letting your body relax will become easier over time as you become familiar with the feeling of letting go.

A number of psychological treatments can help you manage your pain. You can use them together or on their own, depending on how you are feeling and what aspects of your pain you would like to manage. The therapies we talk about in this section include:


Jevons, M. (2009) ​Psychological treatments for pain management. [Accessed August 25, 2018]​

Last updated: May 2nd 2016