What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for chronic pain?

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a treatment approach that focuses on teaching people ways to identify and change negative thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and to replace them with those that are more adaptive, with the ultimate goal being to improve quality of life and reduce psychological distress. CBT is not talk-therapy - it's a skills-based approach that requires active participation by patient and therapist. CBT focuses on changing thoughts and behaviors that appear to be problematic and teaching more adaptive ways of coping. CBT approaches have been shown to be very effective in treating a range of disorders, from depression and other mood disorders to pain disorders in adults and in children. Learning strategies that you can use to be active, healthy, and address negative thoughts will give you greater control over your pain.

When working with a cognitive behaviorally trained therapist a person who is experiencing chronic pain might learn how to relax certain muscle groups, to set goals and gradually increase enjoyable activities, and to challenge negative thoughts (anxiety or depression) associated with pain such as "What did I do to deserve this?". CBT usually consists of weekly therapy sessions coupled with daily practice exercises designed to help the individual apply the skills learned in their home environment. The potential benefits of CBT are improved physical functioning and reduced disability, decreased pain, improved mood and decreased anxiety, and improved relations with significant others.


There are several advantages of using a CBT approach to treatment over other psychological treatment approaches.

  1. CBT treatments have been demonstrated to be effective through clinical research.
  2. CBT treatments use a user-friendly language that makes them easy for people to incorporate into their lives.
  3. CBT treatments are brief so you will not need to spend years in therapy or thousands of dollars to see results.
  4. Once the CBT skills are learned they are yours for life and they can be used in many diferent situations.


No, you can still take pain medication. Effective pain management means having all the peices of a pain management plan in place, and this can mean appropriate levels of pain medication. The goal of CBT for pain is to help patients learn skills that they can use to help manage pain. Using CBT strategies some people report they are able to reduce or discontinue medications, they notice that they have greater control over their pain, or they notice that their medications work more effectively.  In sum, it is often the case that when patients learn ways of managing pain on their own they are able to reduce their reliance on pain medication.

How to choose a therapist?

The task of finding a therapist may take ssome research, but here are a few tips to make the process of choosing a therapist go more smoothly. In the field of Clinical Psychology, there are some therapists who have been specifically trained in implementing “cognitive-behavioral” techniques and skills. It is recommended that you seek out therapists with these skills and training related to pain management. If you would like to find a cognitive-behaviorally oriented therapist, it is suggested that you consult the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies (ABCT) or a similar organization in your region. Just as you would before choosing a dentist or a surgeon, when interviewing a potential therapist it is reasonable to ask them about their training and level of experience. Ask for an initial meeting at no charge. If you are not confident in their abilities or you dont feel they would be a good match for you then you should try another therapist - all therapists are not the same.