Managing Pain without Medications

We usually think of pain as something physical that the body feels. It is important to know that pain stems from troubles of the body and mind. Our thoughts, emotions, stress levels and choices impact the way we feel and deal with physical pain.

Some people with chronic pain (pain that doesn’t go away or returns regularly) can experience feelings such as anger, hopelessness, sadness and anxiety. This is why your doctor may refer you to a pain psychologist (a mental health professional that has special training in pain management).

If you feel any of the things below, you may benefit from the support of a pain psychologist.

  • “Why can’t I be strong and just get over it? I’m going to hide the pain so that it doesn’t make others feel uncomfortable.”
  • “I’m in too much pain to work or do well at work. I can no longer support my family. I have become worthless.”
  • “All I ever think about is the pain I feel. I can’t even see past it to think about the things that make me who I am.”
  • “Others don’t know what I am going through. It is so lonely without someone to understand this struggle.”

Pain Impacts the Whole Person, Not Just the Body

Listed here are a few different ways people feel pain.
  • Thoughts centered around your pain
  • Deep concern that your pain will get even worse
  • Feeling helpless and trapped by pain
  • Having anxiety about when pain will flare up and how bad it will be
  • Can’t or don’t want to get out of bed
  • Stop spending time with others
  • Choose not to do things you used to enjoy
  • Stress on relationships

  • Quitting work
  • Medical bills piling up

How Can a Pain Psychologist Help?

  • Partners with you to reduce stressors in your life, where possible
  • Guides you to be aware of how you respond to pain and stress by looking at how you feel and the choices you make when you are in pain
  • Encourages you to set goals
  • Helps you make a behavior plan
  • Teaches you coping tools to help manage pain and stress
  • Gives you healthy ways to direct your thoughts, choices and behaviors
  • Shares tools to help you stay grounded when you’re in a tough situation
  • Treats nervous system problems (nervous system disorders are a major cause of chronic pain)
  • Partners with you to be active in managing your pain

What Might I Expect During a Visit with a Pain Psychologist

  • Go over the pain you feel, where and when it happens, and what may affect it
  • Talk about any worries or stresses in your life, along with those linked to your pain
  • Fill out a questionnaire to record your thoughts and feelings about your pain

What are the Steps to See a Pain Psychologist?

  • Speak with your primary care physician (the doctor that you go to for a yearly health exam, cold or injury).
  • If you need to see a pain psychologist, your primary care physician will give you a referral to see one.
  • If you don’t have a primary care physician, it is strongly recommended that you find one to care for your overall health. You can still get support for your pain while you find a primary care physician by contacting your health insurance company. Call or visit their website to find an in-network psychologist that specializes in pain management or health psychology. Try to find an office that is easy for you to travel to.
City of Hope's Department of Supportive Care Medicine provides specialized care for people with serious illnesses, focusing on relieving symptoms such as pain. By taking an interdisciplinary team approach to providing comprehensive, holistic care to address symptoms like these associated with cancer and cancer treatment, we’re able to help alleviate patient discomfort, not just treat their illness. Our staff is trained in advanced communication skills, making them able to help patients document their values and goals, and assist with advance care planning.
These useful guides and booklets can help you manage the effects of pain. Many are also available in print at the Sheri & Les Biller Patient and Family Resource Center on our main campus in Duarte.

From massage to meditation, integrative medicine — which uses evidence-based, complementary practices in combination with conventional medicine — can help cancer patients and survivors regain health and build a lifestyle focused on wellness.