Ask Dr. Beth: How Do I Find a Pain Psychologist?

Ask Dr. Beth: How Do I Find a Pain Psychologist?

This is a great question. Many people do not know about pain psychologists, and once they learn about this specialty, the follow-up question is where can I find one?

Beth Darnall

Beth Darnall

In my recent column in Psychology Today, I begin the conversation about pain psychology and what it has to offer.

Once you have determined that you are interested in seeing a pain psychologist, start investigating your local resources.

Below are my tips for finding a pain psychologist in your area:

1) Academic multidisciplinary pain clinics often have one or more pain psychologists on staff. If you live near a teaching hospital or university, check to see if there is a university pain clinic. Search their website to find out if they offer pain psychology services. This is generally low-hanging fruit for people who live in metropolitan areas or university towns.

The benefit of working with a psychologist in a multidisciplinary pain clinic is that generally they only work with people who have chronic pain, and therefore are highly specialized in their clinical focus and expertise. They are also dialed into all aspects of pain care and may serve as a resource for accessing other types of services you may need.

2) Ask your general physician or pain physician if they know of a good local pain psychologist. A personal recommendation goes a long way, especially from a medical professional.

3) Google search. Sounds simple and can be very effective. Literally Google “pain psychologist” and your city and see what shows up. Psychology Today has a good website and it tends to come up on these searches. Your Google search may pull up websites for community providers who have personal websites or work in a group practice. You will need to scroll through the psychologists’ profiles to find someone that seems like a good fit.

A lot of psychologists will simply list “chronic pain” as a specialty. Working with 1-2 people who have chronic pain is NOT the same thing as being a psychologist who is an expert in the field. You want someone who has specialized training and substantial experience in treating chronic pain.

Ideally your pain psychologist will have a PhD in clinical psychology and specialized fellowship training in chronic pain. I recommend choosing a psychologist who uses a cognitive-behavioral approach (CBT) as this is evidence-based treatment for chronic pain.

If you are searching online and find a psychologist’s profile that looks good to you, send the psychologist a message or call them to ask questions about their background and treatment approach. Ask if they consider themselves a pain psychologist. Remember, you are interviewing them. It’s an important relationship, and even with all the right credentials you may not feel particularly connected to a certain psychologist.

In cases where you aren’t sure, give yourself permission to interview more than one provider before making a decision to hire a pain psychologist.

Not everyone has the insurance coverage or the financial resources to afford pain psychologist co-payments. In these cases, seek out print and online resources, and free local support groups.

Below are some affordable behavioral treatment options:

The American Chronic Pain Association offers free patient education and resources. Find out about free support groups in your area.

Less Pain, Fewer Pills” In part, I wrote this book to provide low-cost access to pain psychology. The whole second half of the book is dedicated to teaching people pain psychology tools and a self-empowerment plan. Even if you do not take pain medication, you can read this book and develop your own pain psychology treatment plan.

If you are depressed, the best treatment pathway will include individual psychotherapy. If individual therapy is not possible, try an online program like MoodGym or GETSelfHelp, a resource for free online cognitive-behavioral approaches to a variety of problems.

Less Pain Fewer Pills hi res cover imageDr. Beth Darnall treats patients at the Stanford Pain Management Center in Redwood City, CA. She is author of “Less Pain, Fewer Pills: Avoid the Dangers of Prescription Opioids and Gain Control over Chronic Pain” and has a column in Psychology Today.

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The information in this column is not intended to be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Only your doctor can do that!  It is for informational purposes only and represent the author’s personal experiences and opinions alone. It does not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of National Pain Report or Microcast Media.

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Excellent and helpful article, thank you!