Psychology for living: a look at chronic pain

Gwen Randall-Young

I have worked with individuals suffering from chronic pain, and although I listened carefully to how it affected them, I didn’t fully understand until an inflamed tailbone provided me with some direct experience.
Much as I dislike the pain, it has given me a profound insight into what others must deal with when relief is elusive.
Generally, whenever we have a problem in life, we look for solutions. Most often there is something we can do to change the situation. The very term ‘chronic pain’ suggests that there are no simple answers. No one likes to be in pain, nor to be always talking about their pain. But when its bad, it seems to fill your entire world. You can feel like an outsider looking in, unable to fully participate in life.
Pain needs healing, and so it is important to pursue healing modalities. It is critical to have an accurate diagnosis, and an understanding of what is causing the pain. Your medical doctor can arrange tests or referrals to specialists. Do not be afraid to seek a second opinion if you’re feeling unsure.
It is also wise to investigate other kinds of healing, including massage, physiotherapy, natural medicine, acupuncture to name only a few. These modalities can complement each other very well.
Psychological counselling may also help because we know there is a strong body-mind connection. Sometimes chronic pain is a message that something in our lives is not as it should be, or as we would like. The bottom line is that it is a reminder/opportunity to take care of ourselves. Sometimes it is a wakeup call encouraging us either to change our lives, or to appreciate things we take for granted.
If you suffer from chronic pain, then it is important to do as much as you can to be proactive in your healing. Do some research into your condition, consulting with recent publications through the library. Check the bookstores to see if there is a book dealing with your problem. Talk to your health practitioner about what you are finding. These are ways in which you can feel that you are doing something on your own behalf, rather than waiting for answers. Be good to yourself and indulge in things that feel good, be it a massage or a soak in a hot tub.
If you live with someone who is in pain, understand that they cannot truly be themselves when they are hurting. Do not minimize their pain and understand their limitations. You may be frustrated that they can’t do what they’ve always done, but don’t get angry or make them feel guilty. They need your loving support and share your desire that they get back to normal. You may not be able to fix the pain, but your love and compassion can make it more bearable.
Gwen Randall-Young is an author and award-winning psychologist. For permission to reprint this article, or to obtain books, CDs or MP3s, visit