APA Response to an E.R. Treating Pain Patients with Opioid Alternatives

APA President Susan H. McDaniel submitted a letter to The New York Times regarding psychology's role in treatment of acute and chronic pain.

June 15, 2016

The New York Times
620 Eighth Avenue
New York, NY 10018

Dear Editor:

The quest for non-narcotic alternatives for treating both acute and chronic pain means changing expectations of patients and practice for physicians (“An E.R. Kicks the Habit of Opioids for Pain,” June 14). Treatment with non-narcotic analgesics, nerve blocks and other targeted injections has broadened the medical approach. However, there is a long scientific and clinical history of psychological treatment of pain. Curiously, the clinic featured at St. Joseph’s did not include that work. Pain has biological, psychological and emotional factors that must be addressed in a successful treatment program. Thus, a comprehensive, effective pain program needs to include medical and psychological interventions.

Psychologists provide assistance in managing stress, which worsens pain, and can teach relaxation through meditation or breathing so that patients can manage their pain.  Psychologists can also help with the negative thoughts, depression and anxiety that accompany pain, and they can assist with lifestyle changes to help with work, recreation and home life.

The alternative therapy approaches featured in the story may show some promise, but they are not yet grounded in scientific evidence. As effective pain treatment clinics are developed, it is essential that they include evidence-based psychological approaches to evaluation and treatment.

Susan H. McDaniel, PhD
American Psychological Association