Finding Peace Within The Pain: How ACT Therapy Can Help Those With Chronic Pain

If you suffer from chronic pain, you may need to get through your daily activities with drugs such as NSAIDs, SSRIS, muscle relaxants, and the like. While these kinds of medicines can be godsends for daily functioning, they may not address your mental or emotional pain. If you are in pain most of the time, you may be stressed and suffer from feelings of irritability, jealously, or guilt of being a burden.

To help you combat these feelings, you may want to talk with a pain management expert or a therapist. While you may have heard of therapies like Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) or Transcendental Meditation (TM), you may not have heard of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, or ACT.

A therapist trained in ACT therapy would say that these kinds of "negative" thoughts and feelings that you have in regards to your pain shouldn't be suppressed, since the harder one tries to avoid bad feelings, the more they are created. Take a look at some of the basics of ACT and how it can help.

What Are the Main Ideas of ACT?

A book you may want to pick up from the library is the "The Happiness Trap" by Russ Harris, which is a layman's guide to learning some basics of this kind of therapy. ACT seeks to expose four myths that people place on themselves:

  1. That feeling happy is a natural state of being ("The grass is always greener on the other side").

  2. That if you are not happy, something must be wrong with you.

  3. That to be happy and have a better life, you need to get rid of any negative thoughts or emotions.

  4. That to rid yourself of negative emotions, you must always control what you are feeling.

However, with ACT, a person will realize that these myths only create a struggle between human nature and reality. The fact of the matter is that "feeling good" all the time may not be possible, and while control strategies may work for you in short-term situations, they can lead to further stress if they end up failing you.

To get over these myths, a person will need to practice six steps:

  1. Re-framing thoughts by observing them instead of judging them

  2. Making room for unpleasant feelings instead of trying to suppress them

  3. Practicing mindfulness, or focusing on the present moment

  4. Extending mindfulness to the observing self, which means that instead of letting thoughts inundate your mind, you hone your awareness to your senses (hear, sight, touch, smell, and taste)

  5. Reflecting on values that are most important to you

  6. Committing yourself to making actions that are guided by your values.

Breaking through the myths and incorporating the ACT steps takes practice. However, a therapist, doctor, or even a self-help book can help you delve more into coping strategies.

Is There Any Evidence To Back Up ACT?

The short answer is yes. For instance, according to the American Pain Society, seventy-eight participants used ACT to increase their flexibility and willingness to get through everyday functions despite their chronic pain. Forty-six percent of these participants were able to improve their anxiety, depression, and pain-related disabilities, while almost sixty percent of these participants improve in at least one area.

Science Direct also related a similar study, in which one hundred and eight participants were encouraged to increase their productivity and daily activities despite pain for three or four weeks. These participants practiced ACT strategies to help them cope with their pain and were able to make strides in their physical, social, and emotional functionality.

What's the Caveat?

Keep in mind that many studies show that ACT helps to manage chronic pain, but it is not a panacea. However, because there is a mind-body relationship, Medline Plus says that fixing a tumultuous emotional state can have physical benefits, like reducing fatigue, stress, depression, muscle tension, high heart rates, etc.

ACT can be a great adjunctive therapy along with your doctor's prescribed medications or other pain management programs. You may still have natural feelings of being down because of pain, but instead of struggling with those thoughts, you can learn to accept them with ACT. 

About Me

Tips for people who think They Have "Bad Health Luck"

While my parents took care to keep my home sanitary, feel my family nutritious meals, and encourage us all to get some healthy exercise outdoors, I always felt like I had "bad health luck." During my childhood, it felt like I was always coming down with one illness after another, and while thankfully, there were great treatments for most of them, I was envious of other children who seemed to never get sick. During my teenage years, my health improved, but as an adult, it seems like my "bad health luck" has returned. However, I try to find a "silver lining" in everything and, for me, that was the inspiration to learn a lot about diseases, disorders, and other health problems. To help others suffering from health problems, I decided to share the health knowledge I have accumulated over the years on a blog!