In collaboration with Keck School of Medicine

Does Self-Compassion Help with Chronic Pain Management?

Two people show compassion towards one another by hugging to support each other through chronic pain

This article was originally published on Confronting Chronic Pain by Dr. Steven Richeimer, Director Pain Medicine Master and Certificate.

Most people know that having compassion for others is a good thing. But how many people, especially those with chronic pain, have self-compassion? It’s not something most of us consider, but it is something that researchers have been studying if self-compassion helps chronic pain. Related to cognitive behavior therapy, compassion-focused therapy is an approach that people are beginning to explore.

In the February 2020 issue of the British Journal of Pain

Researchers shared their findings from setting out to see if compassion-focused therapy would help people address chronic pain. [1]  Those who have chronic pain often engage in some form of management plan to help provide care for the condition.

Researchers in the study wanted to see if those who engaged in a 12-week compassion-focused therapy program would experience more pain relief than those who didn’t.

Working with facilitators who ran the compassion-focused therapy groups, they collected data from participants. They also used data collected from questionnaires that provided insight into the participants’ pain disability, mood, acceptance of their chronic pain, and how much they engaged in self-criticism and self-reassurance.

Researchers analyzed interviews in order to identify five themes found among them. They used the various pieces of collected information to analyze the effect that compassion-focused therapy had over the 12-week period.

Many people who experience chronic pain also have a significant psychological component that plays a role. They may experience hopelessness, anxiety, anger, depression, or isolation. This adds to the initial problem of chronic pain, making the situation worse, and reducing the quality of life. This is what makes considering having compassion-focused therapy so important for those with chronic pain.

What did they find?

What the researchers found was that those who suffered from a psychological component to the chronic pain benefited from compassion-focused therapy. The approach helped people to feel less isolated, learn new ways of coping with the pain, become more accepting of the pain and its limitations, and improve the ability to self-reassure.

Those who have compassion-focused therapy as part of their chronic pain treatment plan may experience a higher quality of life, because they feel less isolated and have an improved attitude and approach to dealing with the condition.

Those who have a psychological component to their chronic pain should take steps to try adding compassion-focused therapy. The treatment focuses on promoting mental and emotional healing by having compassion for ourselves, as well as others.

Those who engage in it may find that they are able to better regulate their:

  1. Mood
  2. Outlook
  3. Acceptance
  4. Level of comfort

All will be helpful in dealing with chronic pain, thus self-compassion helps chronic pain.

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[1] British Journal of Pain. ‘All these things don’t take the pain away but they do help you to accept it’: making the case for compassion-focused therapy in the management of persistent pain. February 2020.

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