Chronic Illness, Pain and Medical Anxiety

Chronic Illness and Chronic Pain Counseling 


Chronic pain is any pain that lasts longer than six months. It can occur anywhere in the body. Chronic pain can range from a mild irritation to a severely debilitating condition.

  • Chronic pain can affect one’s daily routine and quality of life. It may also be a risk factor for depression, anxiety, or insomnia. Thus, someone who has chronic pain may wish to work with a therapist in addition to pursuing other lines of treatment.
  • Chronic pain often occurs due to a physical health issues. And in some cases, chronic pain may have a psychological source. Muscle pain, fatigue, and headaches can be reactions to unexpressed emotions or needs. This unconscious conversion of a mental state into physical symptoms is known as somatization.
  • People who somaticize feel actual physical pain, not imagined pain. Their symptoms may be severe enough to affect work, relationships, and daily life. Stress and worry resulting from the symptoms tend to cause an individual's condition to worsen. A person with somatic symptoms may wish to see a therapist in addition to a health care provider.
  • Around 20% of adults in the United States had chronic pain. Chronic pain often goes hand in hand with mental health concerns. Research suggests between 30 to 50% of individuals with chronic pain also have anxiety or depression, sleep disturbances, grief, and anger issues.
  • Chronic pain syndrome (CPS) describes when chronic pain and a secondary issue feed into each other. For example, the stress and isolation involved with chronic pain can lead to depression.  Depression, in turn, can cause a person to ruminate on their pain and become less motivated to pursue treatment. Because some people may manifest depression in the form of physical symptoms along with psychological ones, depression can also result in chronic pain.

Stress in and of itself can increase a person’s pain by:

·       Triggering muscle tension and spasms.

·       Causing additional health problems such as heart disease.

·       Making the nervous system more reactive, thereby amplifying pain signals. 

Individuals with CPS often benefit most when they have a holistic treatment plan. They will likely need to treat their emotional concerns and chronic pain simultaneously. Care providers will likely include both physical and mental health professionals.  

1.     Defining the prevalence of chronic pain in the United States. (2018, September 14). Retrieved from

2.     Chronic Pain: Symptoms, Diagnosis, & Treatment. (2011). NIH Medline Plus, 5-6.

3.     Managing chronic pain: How psychologists can help with pain management. (2013, December 1). Retrieved from

4.     McAllister, M. J. (2016, September 8). Chronic pain syndrome. Retrieved from http://www.instituteforchronic...

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