AAPM: National Need for Chronic Pain Psychology Services

By Ed Coghlan

Dr. Beth Darnall

Dr. Beth Darnall

Beth Darnall PhD is Clinical Associate Professor in the Division of Pain Medicine at Stanford University and treats individuals and groups at the Stanford Pain Management Center. She has been a leading voice in arguing for the importance of more access to pain psychology services for the nation’s large chronic pain population.

She is chair of the American Academy of Pain Medicine Task Force on Pain Psychology and late last year asked the National Pain Report’s help in getting pain patient reaction to a survey. (Here’s the story)

She shared some insights from the survey.

“Our national needs assessment on pain psychology services, resources and education was conducted in response to the IOM report and the draft National Pain Strategy.  Both documents call for better training in pain across disciplines of care, including psychology.  Our surveys of individuals with chronic pain identified gaps in access and barriers to pain psychology services.  We also report of gaps in training in pain amongst psychologists and therapists.  Physicians are taught to treat pain from the biopsychosocial perspective, and yet they are not given access to the providers – qualified and competent pain psychologists—who can treat pain.  We need concerted pain education in psychology programs from the undergraduate, graduate, and post-graduate levels.”

Pain Medicine just published the article “Pain Psychology: A Global Needs Assessment and National Call to Action.” The article is available free of charge here.

The article is a report of the national needs for pain psychology services, resources, and education across 6 key stakeholder groups in the U.S.: individuals with chronic pain, psychologist/therapists, pain physicians, primary care physicians and physician assistants, nurse practitioners, and directors of psychology graduate training programs. The study was spearheaded by the American Academy of Pain Medicine’s Task Force on Pain Psychology (Co-Chairs: Beth Darnall, PhD; Judith Scheman, PhD; and Sean Mackey, MD, PhD). The study involved administering brief surveys to individuals across the 6 stakeholder groups. Almost 2,000 responses were received.

The results speak to the dearth of current pain psychology resources available to individuals with chronic pain. While the United States is amidst a pain crisis and the so-called ‘opioid crisis’, current pain psychology resources are inadequate, and even psychologists and therapists feel ill-prepared to deal directly– and to treat– chronic pain.

It is clear that dealing with both crises will require increased efforts to effectively train generalist therapists with basic pain education, and to train others to be pain psychology specialists. Read the full article to learn more about what we feel is needed– as a national first step– to improve access to pain psychology, and to treat the full definition of pain. With 100 million Americans living with some degree of pain, bold actions are necessary to shift the current trajectory and improve the quality of life of millions.”

Beth Darnall is lead author on the report. She is Co-Chair of the Pain Psychology Task Force at the American Academy of Pain Medicine. Here is a link to her website.

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