Pain Management Unit Psychology Service

Phone: (08) 8222 5403
Fax: (08) 8222 5904
Location: Pain Management Unit, Level 6, Emergency Block.

Chronic pain can be defined as pain that lasts for more than three months despite medical intervention and treatment.

The Clinical Psychology service in the Pain Management Unit provides a specialist service including assessment, treatment and management planning, as well as group and individual therapy to patients and their families. The service also provides consultation to other members of staff and outside agencies in relation to psychological aspects of chronic pain and chronic pain management.

Research and evaluation are also important aspects of the psychological service to the Pain Management Unit.

See a psychologist, "Are you saying the pain is in my head?"

No, chronic pain is real! You know what hurts even if others canít see it. Being asked to see a psychologist does not mean that the pain is in your head or that you are crazy! For years, psychologists have been involved in helping people learn to manage both their pain and its consequences.

Living with chronic pain can bring additional stresses and strains to many areas of life. For everybody, uncomfortable emotions and worries can occur in response to all sorts of situations, and these can make life more difficult and less enjoyable.

Psychological concerns can impact upon your physical health, such as through behaviour (eg not paying as much attention to our health when we feel down) and through the effects of stress on the body.


So, how can a psychologist help?

Dealing with chronic pain is demanding and can affect many aspects of daily life. In any situation we think, feel and take action, and chronic pain is often accompanied by thoughts and behaviours that only seem to make living with pain more difficult.

Many people find it helpful to talk through their thoughts and feelings with someone they trust. While some people feel comfortable talking with family and friends, others prefer to talk to someone outside their immediate circle. The psychologist is one member of your pain management team who specialises in helping people deal with emotional ups and downs and who can offer you extra support and assistance if required.

The psychologists contribute to the multidisciplinary pain intervention in a number of ways including both group and individual sessions.†

Group Programs

1. The ALIVE ‘Actively Living Valued Experiences’ group program

The ALIVE ‘Actively Living Valued Experiences’ group program is a nine week group that is run in conjunction with a psychologist and a physiotherapist. The program aims to show you a number of strategies that have been proven to be effective in reducing the negative impact of chronic pain. You will learn new ways to respond to your pain so that you can win back some of the territory that pain may have taken away.

  • The group covers the following areas:
  • information about chronic pain and how the brain generates a pain experience
  • exploring life values - what matters to you?
  • setting realistic goals to help you get back on track
  • mindful awareness
  • improving general fitness, flexibility, and function
  • pacing daily activities appropriately
  • addressing sleep problems
  • thoughts and feelings - helpful ways to respond.

A useful guiding question is:
“Do my responses to pain help me live the life I want?”
The group program gives you a supported, structured way to examine this question for yourself.

2. Mindfulness based cognitive therapy program

As people with chronic pain often experience a range of emotional difficulties alongside their pain, mindfulness-based mediation exercises can help to alleviate the emotional difficulties of depression, anxiety or stress, as well as assist in managing the pain itself.†

Please enquire with a psychologist at the Pain Unit for further information regarding the group programs.

How to cope with chronic pain

In general, a holistic body-mind and multidisciplinary approach to managing chronic pain is needed. Below are some examples of the different ingredients found to be helpful.

1. Come to terms with it

Accepting that there is no quick answer to your pain problems is the first step to gaining control of your pain and taking control of your life again.

2. Don’t get into the habit of ‘doctor shopping’

Going to lots of different doctors looking for treatment can lead to unrealistic hopes and often leads to confusion amongst the doctors and in yourself. It also keeps the focus on the pain and stops you from doing other things that you might enjoy. (Think about all the hours waiting in doctors’ waiting rooms!)

3. Keep as active and as fit as possible

This means achieving a balanced lifestyle between rest, activity, leisure and diet. A physiotherapist can talk with you about specific exercises that might help you.

4. Pace your activities

Are you the sort of person who either keeps going in spite of the pain, or waits until a ‘good day’ and then gets everything done, only to spend the next day or two lying in bed recovering? Well, you may need to learn how to pace yourself. Pacing involves looking at how you organise your day and setting small achievable goals so that you are able to manage as much as possible without suffering afterwards.

5. Talk

Talk to your doctor or nurse, or ask to see one of the psychologists in the pain unit. Talking about problems is one of the first steps to working out a solution.

6. Learn how to really relax!

Stresses and worries can increase your state of physical tension, which can in turn worsen your pain. The psychologist can teach you a variety of relaxation techniques to relax your mind and body ó and decrease your pain.

7. Educate yourself about pain

There are many resources available that you can access to begin learning about pain the most effective ways of managing it. Some suggestions are:


Explain Pain, by David Butler and Lorimer Moseley. Published by Noigroup Publications, (2008).

Manage Your Pain, by Michael Nicholas, Allan Molloy, Lois Tonkin and Lee Beeston. Published by ABC Books, (2011).Living Well With Pain and Illness, by Vidyamala Burch.† Published by Sounds True (2010).

Living Beyond Your Pain, by Joanne Dahl and Tobias Lundgren. Published by New Harbinger Publications, (2006).

The Mindfulness Solution to Pain: Step-by-Step Techniques For Chronic Pain Management, by Jackie Gardner-Nix.† Published by New Harbinger, (2009).


The Australian Pain Society:

Chronic Pain Australia:

You Tube: Understanding Pain: What to do about it in less than five minutes?


Referrals for psychological service are accepted from the Pain Unit outpatient clinic at the Royal Adelaide Hospital.