Pain is an interesting phenomenon. Not only are there different levels of pain, but people experience pain in different ways. According to Terry Altilio, MSW, LMSW, people learn how to think about and react to pain based on lessons taught through their families, their cultures and their spiritual beliefs. Because pain can be as emotional as it is physical, social workers have a role in pain management that few understand.
1.Cognitive Behavioral Techniques and Psychodynamic Therapy
Frank Bass, Associated Press (AP) author, wrote an interesting piece some years ago that detailed a 90 percent increase in the amount of pain killers sold between 1997 and 2005. In today's modern medical settings, the five major pain killers are not as readily prescribed. Instead, physicians and patients alike are turning to alternative forms of pain management, including cognitive behavioral techniques and psychodynamic therapy. Social workers can coach patients in these non-narcotic pain managers: muscle relaxation techniques, meditation, yoga, deep diaphragm breathing exercises and cognitive exercises for stress management.
For people with chronic pain, the ability to remain gainfully employed can be altered. Licensed social workers can help patients learn problem solving and decision making skills. Whether a patient is considering whether or not to pursue a course of long-term pain-management medication, apply for disability or both, a social worker can teach the cognitive skills necessary to make these decisions. A social worker can also help patients manage the impact that these decisions may have on the family as a unit.
Pain is a two-sided coin. According to Altilio, the fact that some people abuse medications should not mean that those who truly need them should go without. In some cultures, seeking pain management is considered to be a sign of weakness. In a caring society, this is simply not acceptable. Social workers can help people cope with the diagnosis of chronic pain conditions, assist families in understanding the implications of the diagnosis, and help patients determine the best course of treatment while keeping cultural and religious values in mind.
While there may be dozens of resources within a community, but finding those resources can be difficult for patients who are navigating the system for the first time. Social workers have many contacts and lists of resources, such as the American Pain Foundation. For those patients that have been hospitalized, social workers can assist with discharge planning and referral to outside agencies such as nursing homes and rehabilitation facilities. Social workers can also help patients fill out insurance forms and make financial arrangements for continued care.
When a family member is diagnosed with any long-term illness, the entire family can be impacted in a negative way. Whether it's stress over the family member's diagnosis or worry about a loss of income, families often need help coping with the new situation. Social workers can provide coping skills, educational materials and stress management techniques for each family member, as well as counseling for the family as a whole unit.
Pain is unique for each person experiencing it. Rather than treating only the physical symptoms, a whole-being treatment plan may be a better option. In conjunction with your physician, a licensed social worker can be an important component in pain management programs.