While medication is a typical staple of pain management, concerns around medications, including dependence, abuse, organ damage and other potential risks, are even more pressing for children than for adults. Also, addressing physical symptoms shouldn’t be the only goal of chronic pain treatment for children. Chronic pain can cause significant psychological, social and emotional distress that affects how children develop, and even whether they recover.
Children with chronic pain conditions often experience activity limitations that interfere with their ability to socialize; this can affect self-esteem. Also worth considering is the fact that pain is frightening; your child may have an intense fear of pain that limits his or her activity beyond reasonable or necessary bounds, putting recovery at risk by inhibiting proactive treatment measures like exercise.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Children
Fortunately, there are methods besides medication that children and parents can turn to for help addressing the various physical, emotional and psychological ramifications of chronic pain. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a form of psychotherapy that helps patients learn to develop accurate and constructive attitudes, thoughts and beliefs about pain. It involves identifying negative automatic thought patterns and replacing them with more positive ones.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has a solid track record for helping adults manage chronic pain and other conditions. There is some research to suggest that it may yield comparable benefits for children.
In one study of 94 youth with chronic pain, researchers tracked changes in pain and disability scores over an average of 5.6 sessions of CBT. While pain scores did not decrease significantly, a significant decline in disability levels was noted. See more on this study at www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov.
Another smaller study sought to assess the effectiveness of a CBT program administered over the internet that incorporated parental participation. The sessions included training in relaxation techniques, communication methods, parent operant techniques and sleep interventions. Researchers found significant reductions in both pain and disability scores in this study, reductions that were maintained at a three-month follow-up. This suggests that internet-based intervention may be an effective option for families that can’t access in-person therapy. See more on the study at www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov.
Along with pain and disability measures, CBT may help children gain more confidence in themselves and feel more comfortable in their own skin. Children deserve every shot they can get at a healthy life. Cognitive behavioral therapy may help them achieve that without risks and side effects.