how a clinical psychologist can help

Psychologists and psychiatrists are experts in helping people to cope with the thoughts and feelings that typically accompany pain. They can work with individuals or families in an independent setting or as part of a more collaborative health care team to address both the physical and emotional aspects of pain. Once they have a comprehensive understanding of your thoughts and concerns surrounding the issue, a psychologist can begin to develop an effective treatment plan that works for you.


Pain is essentially some kind of unpleasant sensation, either emotional or physical, that is typically caused by either an injury or an illness. It is important to realize that pain can be either physical/organic or emotional/psychological (or some combination of these) but these types of pain are quite different.

Physical pain is a sensation that is produced by certain types of messages being relayed through the nervous system. When people suggest that something on their body hurts or that they are in pain, they are generally referring to physical pain. This type of pain is usually associated with some kind organic damage to bodily tissue. This article will primarily focus on physical pain.

Psychological pain is an unpleasant or distressing feeling of a non-physical origin. It is basically a measure of how much you hurt as a person, and typically involves your own attitudes, beliefs, thoughts, feelings, and behaviour. Whether people experience physical or psychological pain, the same areas of the brain are activated.

Either type of pain can profoundly affect someone’s ability to do the things they would normally do in their day-to-day life.


Physical pain is an inescapable part of life. You can think of pain as simply being your body’s way of telling you to either slow down and relax a little, or to stop entirely. Your body is amazing at self-healing and once you recover the pain generally goes away, or at least reduces. Chronic pain however is more enduring and can affect as many as 1 in 10 adults in their lifetime. Your body can keep hurting for weeks, months, or even years after an injury. Obviously this can have a big impact on your day-to-day functioning and your mental health. The good news is that this type of pains is usually treatable or manageable. There a few symptoms of chronic pain to watch out for.


  • Soreness (muscular or otherwise)
  • Stinging sensations
  • Stiff joints
  • Dull aches that can be persistent
  • Burning sensations


  • Constant tiredness or lack of energy
  • Frequent mood changes
  • Having trouble sleeping
  • Lack of appetite



The technical name for chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is ‘myalgic encephalomyelitis’ (ME) which basically means ‘pain in the muscles’. CFS affects the nervous system and can occur at any age. Although the condition affects men, women, and children of all ages, we know that women are slightly more likely to be affected than men. The prevalence of CFS is estimated to be somewhere between 0.5% and 3% of the population. It is a complex illness that we don’t really know the cause of. CFS often results in considerable post-exercise exhaustion but generally means that people don’t really have enough energy for many simple daily tasks.


Fibromyalgia is a musculoskeletal condition that is typically characterised by fatigue/tiredness and muscle/joint pain. Although it is the second most common musculoskeletal condition (after osteoarthritis), it is still poorly understood and often misdiagnosed. Sufferers of fibromyalgia may have symptoms such as

  • Problems with memory/thinking
  • Headaches
  • Sleeping difficulties
  • Numbness in the extremities


Injury generally involves some kind of damage or harm to the body. Injuries are generally caused accidentally but can seriously impact someone’s quality of life. It is important to realise that while the great majority of injuries (especially those occurring at the workplace) are physical, psychological conditions can also arise as the result of a work-related incident.


Although most people probably associate the term arthritis with a single disease, it is actually more of an encompassing umbrella term that includes over 100 different conditions. Like fibromyalgia, arthritis affects the musculoskeletal system; specifically an individual’s joints and bones. Symptoms stemming from arthritis-related conditions can include pain, joint stiffness, and damage to joint cartilage. Arthritis is the leading cause of chronic pain in Australia today.


Roughly 80% of people will experience some form of notable back pain throughout their lives. Although the origin of this pain can be injury-related, often it just comes on gradually as people age. However, it is alarming that back injuries are now one of the leading causes of workplace disability. Chronic back pain can specifically be the result of:

  • Slipped/bulging discs caused by lifting or twisting injuries
  • Traumatic fractures caused by falls from elevation or sudden impact
  • Soft tissue damage arising from heavy lifting or trauma
  • Compression fractures caused by the collapse of brittle vertebrae


Headaches are one of the most common types of chronic pain. There are many different kinds of headaches and understanding them can be more complicated than people realise. For example, an individual who reports having a headache on 15 or more days in a month is said to suffer from chronic daily headaches (CDH). There also about 150 other types of headaches that one can suffer from but the most common are tension headaches (sometimes called stress headaches) and migraines (often described as a throbbing pain that can last up to 3 days).


Because pain is so complex and variable, there are many different treatment options and therapies available to the sufferer. While medical treatments such as medication, surgery, rehabilitation and physical therapy can definitely play a big part in alleviating pain, psychological interventions should also be considered.