Pain Management Program

Program for Management of Chronic Pain or Physical Symptoms

The University of Pittsburgh Clinical Psychology Center has a program to treat adults who suffer from chronic pain or other physical symptoms that impact quality of life.  We have designed an outpatient psychotherapy program to complement the medical treatment you are receiving.  

PROGRAM GOAL: to increase the ability to live with physical symptoms, including pain and other discomforts, so they interfere less with daily activities and exert less control over living a meaningful life. 

Why is it important to incorporate psychotherapy into treatment of chronic physical complaints?

Research and clinical experience have shown that the best approach to treating chronic physical symptoms, such as pain and fatigue, involves both traditional medical treatment and psychotherapy focused on symptom management techniques.  Chronic illness and physical symptoms can be very difficult to deal with and often lead to feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or chronic worry.  Indeed, research has shown that symptoms are perceived to be worse when accompanied by negative emotions or when they are the focus of attention.  Symptom management psychotherapy can help in learning to live with symptoms and can reduce the negative emotions that worsen physical conditions. For many people, learning these skills is accompanied by relief from symptoms and greater life satisfaction.

What topics will be discussed as part of the program?

We offer two different types of psychotherapy that have been shown to help individuals to manage physical symptoms and chronic stress and live a more satisfying life.  The first is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) which focuses on accepting distressing symptoms or sensations and learning to live a full and meaningful life. This is a skills-based treatment that helps individuals learn to cope with physical symptoms and life challenges, so they interfere less with living a satisfying life. The second type of psychotherapy is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). This is a practical goal-oriented therapy that aims to change patterns of behavioral and negative thinking that can maintain pain and discomfort.    

A main component of both programs involves learning to self-calm and be present in each moment. To help clients learn to decrease tension and learn what it feels like to relax, we often supplement treatment with biofeedback. 

What is biofeedback?

Biofeedback is a treatment tool that is used for individuals with many physical and emotional challenges, including chronic physical symptoms, such as pain, and sensations associated with heightened arousal, such as panic. It involves being connected to a computer that has software to measure certain physiological processes that are linked to the unpleasant sensations, such as hand temperature and muscle tension.  With training, you will learn how to bring some of these “automatic” processes under individual control and will learn the difference between what it feels like to be tense versus relaxed.  Biofeedback is generally paired with relaxation training.  The clinic uses biofeedback instrumentation supplied by Thought Technology Ltd.

Are there any other benefits of treatment beyond the management of chronic physical symptoms?

The skills taught in this program can be applied to a wide variety of life challenges. ACT, CPT, and relaxation are associated with improved mental and physical health.

Where is the program being offered?

This program is offered through the Clinical Psychology Center (CPC) at the University of Pittsburgh (Oakland campus).  The CPC is a training clinic for graduate students enrolled in the doctoral program in clinical psychology.  All students are closely supervised by licensed mental health providers.  The pain program is overseen by Dr. Anna Marsland, an internationally known expert on the link between psychological factors and physical functioning. Therapy sessions will be offered on a weekly basis and last 50 minutes.  A typical course of treatment includes 12 weekly sessions. For more information, please contact the Clinical Psychology Center at 412.624.8822.