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FirstHealth program takes behavioral approach to chronic pain

| Date Posted: 6/2/2011

Dr. Suzanne G. Martin

Dr. Suzanne G. Martin

PINEHURST – According to a clinical psychologist with FirstHealth Outpatient Behavioral Services at FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital, patients with behavioral disorders often have co-morbid medical conditions that can include chronic pain.

“Not surprisingly, patients with chronic pain frequently experience depressed and anxious moods related to their pain disorder that interfere with their quality of life and functioning,” says Suzanne G. Martin, Psy.D., MPH.

Dr. Martin points out, however, that people with chronic pain can benefit from stress-management practices and mindfulness skills to reduce the muscle tension that can accompany pain disorders and worsen the pain experience.

A new FirstHealth program offers a cognitive-behavioral approach to pain management. Called H.E.L.P. (Healing Experience for those Living with Pain), the program is designed to help people in pain shift their focus from seeking pain-relieving treatments to getting help for things they can do something about.

H.E.L.P. is a 12-week healing experience of six one-hour groups that help people with chronic pain take charge of their pain. A non-medical approach to managing pain and improving quality of life, it includes an initial self-assessment and pain evaluation as well as personal goals for improving quality of life.

Goals addressed in the H.E.L.P. program include stress reduction, improved mood, decreased anxiety, improved sleep and relapse prevention. Participation criteria include:

  • Pain that has continued for more than three months
  • Limited response to medical, surgical or rehabilitation treatment
  • Lack of progress in rehabilitation due to pain
  • Reliance on medication to cope with pain
  • Distress due to pain
  • A commitment to proceed with an improved quality of life despite continuing pain

“By using cognitive behavioral interventions, a psychologist can help identify – and challenge – negative self-talk that contributes to depressed and anxious moods, which in turn magnify the pain experience and increase the likelihood that the patient will avoid behaviors that are health-promoting,” Dr. Martin says.

Such health-promoting behaviors include physical activity, socialization, healthy eating and regular sleep habits.

“Psychologists can also provide education to patients about effective pain management that includes taking medication as prescribed and communicating assertively with their health care providers about their response to pain-management approaches – what works and any side effects they have experienced,” Dr. Martin says. “A discussion of the patient’s role in working with medication is often useful to increase the likelihood of medication effectiveness and pain relief.”

A graduate of St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia with a degree in psychology, Dr. Martin received an M.S. degree in health-care administration from St. Joseph’s before earning her doctorate in psychology (Psy.D.) from Immaculata College in Immaculata, Pa.

She also has a master’s degree in public health from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Before joining FirstHealth Behavioral Services in 2006, Dr. Martin was a senior partner in a Philadelphia group that provided consulting services to human service agencies and providers. She had previously worked as clinical psychologist in a variety of settings in the Philadelphia area.

H.E.L.P. is covered by most insurance policies. To register for the next 12-week series, which begins July 27, contact Suzanne G. Martin, Psy.D., clinical psychologist, at (910) 715-3370 by July 18.

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