By Ed Coghlan.
An article released by the American Psychological Association this month points to the lack of pain psychologists in the U.S.
Psychologists are in demand for nonpharmacological treatment options for chronic pain—though hurdles remain.
The article quotes Tennessee pain psychologist Ted Jones, PhD, who works at a clinic with an active patient load of 1600 but with only two pain psychologists available to treat them.
“We’re seeing more and more patients here, and we’d like to offer more services,” says Jones, who evaluates potential candidates for drug treatments and provides psychological treatments like CBT in group and individual sessions. He would like to hire another psychologist—but he can’t find a good candidate.
“We haven’t yet built the incentives that would encourage enough psychologists to go into this field,” says Robert Kerns, PhD, a professor at Yale University and former national program director for pain management at the VA.
The government pressure on opioid prescribing is having an effect. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put out its guidelines in 2016; several states have passed laws limiting their use; and opioid prescriptions decreased 22 percent between 2013 and 2017.
The problem, of course, is that the government constricted the supply of opioids but has not created any policy that would promote alternatives for the millions of pain patients who use opioids responsibly.
And insurance companies still aren’t covering many of the therapies that patients might want to try instead of using opioids (or because opioids are no longer available because doctors aren’t prescribing)
Meanwhile, pain advocates and patients wait for the recommendations from The Pain Management Best Practices Inter-Agency Task Force. It was established to propose updates to best practices and issue recommendations that address gaps or inconsistencies for managing chronic and acute pain. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is overseeing this effort with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and U.S. Department of Defense.