Chronic pain is a complex and multifaceted condition that affects millions of people worldwide. Traditional approaches to treating chronic pain often focus solely on the physical aspects, neglecting the crucial role of psychological factors in pain perception and management. In this blog post, we will explore the holistic approach to chronic pain management, as discussed by Dr. Barbiere, a distinguished clinical psychologist with over 30 years of experience in private practice in New York City. Dr. Barbiere holds a doctorate in clinical psychology with a specialty in health and pain psychology and has an extensive background in both Western and Eastern modalities of medicine, incorporating practices such as acupuncture and herbal medicine into her work.
In addition to her private practice, Dr. Barbiere’s career has included training and work in various capacities in major New York City hospitals, including NYU Lutheran Labor and Delivery, Ortho-Neuro Rehabilitation departments, St. Vincent’s Cancer Care Center, NYU Initiative for Women with Disabilities, and Interfaith Medical Center HIV/AIDS center. Currently, she is affiliated with Manhattan Pain Medicine, where she continues to provide her unique expertise in pain psychology.
Dr. Barbiere’s commitment to her field extends beyond her clinical work. She has been an active member of the New York State Psychological Association and has served as president, council representative, and board member for NYSPA’s Independent Practice Division. Her dedication also extends to education, as she has served as an adjunct clinical supervisor for Yeshiva University Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology.
In this blog post, Dr. Barbiere shares her insights on understanding pain from a psychological perspective, the importance of addressing fear and safety, the impact of pain on identity and relationships, and the role of language in shaping pain perception. Her extensive experience and unique blend of Western and Eastern modalities make her an authority on pain psychology, providing valuable insights into a holistic approach to chronic pain management.
Understanding Pain from a Psychological Perspective
Dr. Barbiere emphasizes that pain is a very real experience, and it serves as the starting point in addressing a patient’s condition. She believes that chronic pain affects not only the physical aspects of a person’s life but also their emotional and psychological well-being. The brain’s role in chronic pain is paramount, as even after physical treatments, the brain may continue to perceive pain. This underscores the importance of addressing the psychological aspects of chronic pain.
In her approach, Dr. Barbiere focuses on addressing fear and avoidance patterns, which are significant components in the experience of pain. Her methodology encompasses both the top-down and bottom-up approaches, influencing change by changing thought patterns and feelings while also addressing the body and nervous system to signal safety to the brain.
The Top-Down and Bottom-Up Approaches
Dr. Barbiere’s approach to chronic pain management involves a dual approach: the top-down and bottom-up approaches. The top-down approach targets the patient’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors to positively influence the brain-body response. It seeks to change thought patterns and beliefs that may amplify pain. Techniques like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) play a vital role in this approach, as they help patients recognize and challenge distorted or catastrophic thoughts related to pain. By altering these thoughts and beliefs, the perception of pain can be moderated.
Conversely, the bottom-up approach focuses on the body and the nervous system. Somatic body awareness, breathing, mindfulness, visualization, meditation, and muscle relaxation are used to signal safety to the brain through the body. This approach is especially useful when patients find it challenging to manage their pain through meditation or when their pain and emotions become overwhelming.
These two approaches work in synergy to create a comprehensive strategy for managing chronic pain, acknowledging the role of both the mind and the body in the healing process.
Emotion regulation techniques, including mindfulness and meditation, play a crucial role in addressing the emotional aspects of pain. Pacing, the practice of breaking activities into manageable parts and distributing them throughout the day, helps prevent pain exacerbation. By creating structured plans that consider individual limitations and pain thresholds, patients can strike a balance between rest and activity.
Dr. Barbiere’s insights serve as a valuable resource for individuals seeking to better understand and manage chronic pain. Her expertise highlights the importance of addressing the psychological aspects of pain, ultimately providing hope and support for those on their journey to pain management and improved well-being.