As part of Vinland’s outpatient mental health clinic (Rule 29 clinic), Vinland is now offering a chronic pain management group to address co-occurring mental health and chronic pain issues among our residential chemical health clients.
“Many of our clients have injuries resulting in chronic pain,” said Duane Reynolds, Vinland’s associate director. “We developed this group so that our clients can work on their pain issues while in chemical dependency treatment, where they can learn coping skills to manage their pain without the use of narcotics.”
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), research shows well-established associations among chronic pain, substance abuse, and mental disorders.
The chronic pain management group is led by Dr. Ralph McKinney, a psychologist with more than 30 years of working with individuals with chronic pain, and Jeff Willert, a certified exercise physiologist with more than 20 years of working with individuals with chronic pain.
Living with Chronic Pain
In contrast to acute pain, which subsides in time, chronic pain sufferers deal with pain for extended periods – for months, years, or even a lifetime. This contrast to our usual thoughts about pain – it hurts, but eventually it will stop – often provokes confusion and distress, emotional symptoms that exacerbate the physical pain.
Persistent pain can have significant adverse effects on health. Chronic pain can trigger emotional responses, including sleeplessness, irritability, anger, anxiety and depression, which in turn leads to more pain.
A New Normal
Perhaps most difficult for people is leaving behind the lives they knew and accepting the new reality of living with chronic pain.
“Many people feel like they should have no pain and they won’t be happy until all of the pain is gone, but that is not the reality of their situation,” Reynolds said. “They need to accept that chronic pain is a part of their life, and learn coping skills so that they can live with and manage the pain.”
The goal of the group is to develop long-term strategies for pain management through health maintenance and a balanced lifestyle, and to resolve the emotional and psychological consequences of coping with chronic pain.
“We teach clients how to deal with daily pain,” said Jeff Willert, Vinland’s fitness and wellness manager. “We are showing them how to focus on something besides the pain.”
The five-week curriculum explores the meaning that pain has for the clients, and teaches them alternative methods for dealing with their pain. Clients learn about meditation and breathing exercises, how diet and exercise play an important role in managing chronic pain, and the connection between mental health and chronic pain.
Clients are asked to keep a journal to record their daily pain levels, reactions to their pain, and what situations helped or intensified their pain. This process helps clients develop an understanding of their pain and how to control it by avoiding certain stressors.
Dr. McKinney tries to reframe the clients’ minds around their pain. Instead of asking “Are you in pain today?”, he asks “How much is the pain bothering you today?” This acknowledges that the pain is there, but that it can impact the client in different ways.