Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Getting Through the Pain

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Getting Through the Pain

Image for chronic pain article The body reacts to an injury or illness with pain. Pain is a sign that something is wrong, and it is time to focus on what is causing the problem. Long-term (chronic) pain lasts for weeks, months, or years. Problems like arthritis, disorders of the nerves, or cancer can cause this type of pain. It can start when you are hurt or sick and last long after you have recovered from the original illness or injury.

Many people focus on managing physical signs of pain, but how you react to it is important too. How you think and feel about your health impacts the way you heal. It can affect how much the pain will get in the way of the things you do every day.

What Do You Think of Your Pain?

Negative thought patterns may play a part in the choices you make about your health. This includes thought like:

  • "I'll never get better."
  • "This pain stops me from doing the things I like."

If you feel there is little to no chance of getting better, you may be less likely to look for help. You may keep trying things that don’t work. On the other hand, if you believe you can feel better, then you are more likely to look for things that may help you get better. You’ll also be more willing to try things out.

Stress can also be a major part of a pain cycle. It is stressful to have a health problem. They can cause worries about money and affect how you get along with loved ones. This stress can make pain worse and slow healing.

Learning about your thought patterns and stress triggers can be an important step to help you manage your pain. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help you with these steps and show you ways toward a better quality of life.

CBT: Changing Thinking and Behaviors

You may have been told that you are only imagining your pain. It can be a very frustrating part of chronic pain. Part of CBT is to accept that the pain is real. Then you can create healthy thought patterns to help manage it. CBT is based on your needs. It will require you to be realistic about your pain, what you do to treat it, and how you expect to get better. Your therapist will help you to::

  • Understand how negative thoughts and feelings can affect your pain
  • Learn skills to notice and change negative thoughts
  • Lessen behaviors that make your illness a way of life
  • Do positive things that get you toward your goal
  • Create skills to manage your pain
  • Improve the way you talk to your family and medical team

The goal is to replace ways of living that do not work with methods that do. The changes will help you gain more control over your life, instead of living according to the pain.

You can do CBT in a one-on-one or group setting. A spouse or someone in your family can also take part. Most often, CBT is short term and lasts between 6 to 20 sessions. You will need to practice it at home to get the most out of it.

Part of Your Care Plan

Many things can make your pain worse. You can take care of some of them right away while others may take longer. CBT can offer another tool to help you deal with pain. It can help you make your daily life better. If you or a loved one has pain, talk to a doctor about adding CBT to your care plan so you can move toward better days.


American Chronic Pain Association
National Association of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapists


Canadian Psychological Association
Chronic Pain Association of Canada


Chronic pain. Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies website. Available at:
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Accessed August 28, 2020.
Chronic pain. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at:
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Accessed August 28, 2020.
NINDS chronic pain information page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Accessed August 28, 2020.
What is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)? Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Accessed August 28, 2020.
Last reviewed August 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board
Last Updated: 8/28/2020

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