Healing From Within: Exploring The Efficacy Of Pain Reprocessing Therapy

Medically reviewed by Julie Dodson, MA
Updated February 26, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Pain reprocessing therapy (PRT) is an innovative treatment method for individuals experiencing chronic pain. By addressing the neurological mechanisms contributing to chronic pain, PRT aims to help individuals retrain their brains to reduce pain perception and improve their quality of life. To determine whether PRT treatment would benefit you, it can be helpful to understand how the modality works and its potential benefits and limitations. 

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Understanding pain reprocessing therapy

Pain reprocessing therapy combines cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), mindfulness, and somatic techniques to treat chronic pain. By targeting the underlying neural pathways responsible for chronic pain, pain reprocessing seeks to retrain the brain's interpretation of pain signals and promote client comfort.

Components of PRT

There are three basic components of PRT, including the following. 

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

PRT incorporates cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques to help individuals identify and challenge maladaptive thoughts and beliefs about their pain. This process can promote a more balanced and accurate understanding of their pain experience, contributing to pain relief. Cognitive-behavioral therapy involves cognitive techniques in reprocessing certain thoughts and beliefs and training the brain in more adaptive strategies. These techniques can be beneficial for patients with chronic pain who may form maladaptive beliefs about themselves or the world due to their health. 

Mindfulness 

PRT may encourage the development of mindfulness skills, which can help individuals cultivate a more significant awareness of their pain sensations and emotions. Individuals can better manage chronic pain by learning to respond to these experiences in more adaptive ways. In addition, mindfulness has been associated with reduced levels of pain. This technique may result in pain-free or nearly pain-free living for some people. Placebo and usual care studies have different results from mindfulness groups, showing mindfulness is better than placebo and usual care.  

Somatic techniques 

Pain reprocessing therapy may include body-based techniques like guided imagery and progressive muscle relaxation. These techniques can help individuals connect with their physical sensations, promoting relaxation and pain relief. In some cases, pain reprocessing therapy techniques can lead to pain-free living. 

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Preliminary research findings

Research on the efficacy of pain reprocessing therapy (PRT) for treating chronic pain is still in its early stages, but preliminary findings have shown promising results. For example, a recent study published in JAMA Psychiatry found that PRT was more effective than routine care in reducing pain intensity and improving physical function in clients with moderate chronic back pain.

These initial findings from the study, while encouraging, are based on limited research. More extensive studies in JAMA Psychiatry and other journals may be required to better understand the effectiveness of pain reprocessing therapy for various chronic pain conditions, including chronic back pain. 

Considerations of PRT

While PRT shows potential in addressing chronic pain and pain processing, there may be several considerations. For example, the effectiveness of PRT may vary depending on individual factors, such as the nature and duration of the pain and the presence of any co-occurring mental health conditions. 

In addition to PRT, treatment options like medication, physical therapy, acupuncture, massage, or yoga may alleviate pain and promote comfort. Different treatment combinations might be more effective depending on where the pain signals originate. Pain signals may indicate tissue damage or an underlying physical cause that could also require medical attention. Consult a healthcare professional to identify physical symptoms before pursuing pain reprocessing therapy.

When considering PRT, you may consult your healthcare professional and therapist to ensure this treatment approach suits your specific circumstances. Depending on your goals, combining PRT and other evidence-based treatments may provide the most comprehensive and effective approach to managing chronic pain and improving your overall quality of life.

What is a PRT session like? 

When you first sign up for a PRT session, your therapist may consult with you on your goals, the location of your pain, and how long you've been living with chronic pain. If there is a known cause of this pain, you may also discuss this with your provider. 

If your pain is non-structural, meaning it is not caused by a physical condition, your therapist may work with you to understand how the nervous system is connected to physical symptoms like pain. The therapy focuses on how the brain processes sensory issues. As you work with your therapist, you may try somatic tracking, which involves mindfully focusing on the sensations in each part of your body and describing them to your therapist. You may also work through memories or emotions connected to these sensations. 

In addition to your PRT sessions, your therapist might provide additional resources such as articles, videos, and self-help tools. These resources can help you better understand your chronic pain and support pain reprocessing outside of therapy sessions. They can also facilitate better communication and collaboration between you and your therapist, enhancing the therapeutic experience.

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Alternative counseling options 

Living with chronic pain can be difficult and may impede your ability to leave home, commute to a session, or keep up with a schedule. In these cases, online therapy through a platform like BetterHelp may be beneficial. 

One of the primary benefits of online therapy is its ability to offer flexible, personalized support for individuals experiencing a wide range of mental health challenges. For example, those experiencing anxiety and chronic pain might feel more comfortable using an online chat instead of meeting face-to-face. Online therapy also allows for asynchronous communication with therapists. This communication allows clients to reach out when they need guidance or support the most, regardless of traditional office hours.

Research has shown that online therapy can be as effective as traditional in-person therapy for various mental health conditions. A meta-analysis published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research found that internet-based interventions, including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), led to significant improvements in depression, anxiety, and stress symptoms. The study concluded that online therapy offers a practical and beneficial alternative for those seeking mental health support. Furthermore, online interventions like virtual reality have been shown to reduce chronic pain. With its unique blend of convenience and evidence-based treatments, online therapy continues to gain recognition as an effective treatment modality.

Takeaway

Pain reprocessing therapy offers a promising and innovative approach to treating chronic pain, including chronic back pain. By targeting the neural pathways responsible for pain perception and integrating cognitive-behavioral therapy, mindfulness, and somatic techniques, PRT aims to help individuals break the cycle of pain. 

If you're interested in trying this modality or discussing how chronic pain impacts your life, consider reaching out to a licensed therapist online or in another area for further guidance and support.

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