An estimated 50 million adults in the U.S. suffer from some kind of chronic pain. Depending on the type of pain you’re dealing with, treatment can include anything from exercising and applying cold/heat to certain medications.
Different therapies (both physical and mental) have also been used to treat chronic pain. One type of therapy, however, takes a slightly different approach to managing the challenges of chronic pain—Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT).
If you’ve never heard of ACT before, you may be wondering: What is it? How does it work? And why can it help with the challenges of chronic pain and related conditions?
Here are the answers.
What Is ACT?
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy focuses on the practice of mindfulness. It allows you to observe and recognize your current thoughts and feelings as they are and for what they are. This prevents you from thinking about what may have started the pain or what it might feel like in five minutes or five years.
Instead of trying to change the pain itself, ACT allows you to focus on living your life as you normally would without the pain. It encourages you to focus on your goals and aspirations while going in the direction you had always planned for yourself.
How Does ACT Work?
Obviously, mindfulness itself isn’t going to cause your pain to go away. But the premise of ACT is that it’s the thought of the pain and the struggle with how to handle it that can often make it feel worse. And this therapeutic approach allows you to combat that struggle, essentially giving the pain less power over your life. So, while it still hurts, your pain is not in control.
Studies have shown that those who have an acceptance of pain are more likely not to feel it so intensely. They are also less likely to let that pain trigger depression, anxiety, or a diminished quality of life. One of the goals of ACT is to provide you with that mindset.
Living With Chronic Pain and Accepting It
Mindfulness-based therapies like ACT see pain as something that can be accepted. It’s not something to “struggle” with. The concept is that struggling to escape the pain that will always be there will only cause more emotional and mental pain. ACT helps you to develop different feelings toward your pain.
For example, if you have chronic pain and you’re constantly thinking about how much it hurts and how much it is ruining your life, that is exactly what it will continue to do—ruin your life. On the other hand, if you accept that you have pain and you are choosing to live your life anyway, you can find that the pain is more manageable to deal with on a daily basis. It doesn’t go away, but it is a fact of life—a life that you’re in control of.
ACT can also help you to accept your own sense of self. When you’re living with severe chronic pain, it’s easy to root your identity in how you feel or how your pain might hold you back.
But your sense of self is greater than what you’re feeling and any past events and emotions. By focusing on the mindfulness aspect of ACT, you can let those thoughts come and go freely. You won’t hold onto them and contributing to any kind of physical or mental struggle.
ACT doesn’t make light of chronic pain or how difficult it can be, but it can take away some of the power from your pain. If you’re ready to give Acceptance and Commitment Therapy a try, feel free to contact me for more information.