Australian researchers have developed an innovative online program to help people living with chronic pain better self-regulate and handle negative emotions, as well as mitigating painful flare ups.
Researchers at Neuroscience Research Australia and UNSW have developed an Emotional Recovery Program for people living with chronic pain which has shown to help lessen pain intensity. It works by teaching skills to regulate and dial down difficult and intense emotions.
With one in five Australians experiencing chronic pain, this debilitating condition radically limits people’s lives and can often mean difficulties regulating emotions such as fear, worry, stress and low mood. The economic costs of chronic pain in Australia are estimated to be greater than $139 billion annually, and an alarming 20% of chronic pain sufferers have considered suicide as a way to end their emotional suffering.
Unfortunately, people in chronic pain frequently face wait more than a year for treatment, and access is further restricted for rural, regional, and remote areas and indigenous communities. This situation has worsened over the past year, with COVID-19 impacting access to treatment due to clinic closures and increased infection risk.
Pain medications such as analgesics are often prescribed for chronic pain, but many have side effects and risks of addiction while doing little for psychological problems such as depression.
Developed by leading chronic pain researcher Associate Professor Sylvia Gustin, and Emotional Recovery Trainer Nell Norman-Nott, the Emotional Recovery Program is a blended treatment that includes six online emotional recovery skills training sessions delivered via Zoom, and a web app which uses interactive modules and video tutorials.
Associate Professor Sylvia Gustin says chronic pain is more than an awful sensation – it can affect our feelings, emotions beliefs and the way we are. ‘Developing an effective emotional recovery program for treating the emotional suffering associated with chronic pain, is key in the management of chronic pain,’ she said.
‘Many chronic pain sufferers live in rural and remote areas and don’t have access to treatment. Therefore, we have developed our Emotional Recovery Program so it can be delivered online for all chronic pain sufferers in Australia to access, no matter where they live.’
Nell Norman-Nott said the trial showed there is evidence that learning skills in emotional regulation helps people dial down difficult and intense emotions and lessen the intensity of pain.
‘We commonly hear from people with chronic pain that emotional problems such as intense anger, excessive worry and stress can increase the intensity of pain,’ she said, ‘and the impact of COVID-19 has played a huge part in this.’
About the study
To investigate the effectiveness of the Emotional Recovery Program, researchers chose to use a single case experimental design with multiple baselines, with participant’s pain and emotions measured up to thirty times over the course of the study to track changes before, during and after the program.
This approach gave detailed insights and demonstrated the effectiveness of the program to help people with chronic pain better self-regulate and handle their negative emotions and to mitigate painful flare ups. Learning skills in emotion regulation also related to improvement in other factors including depression, coping behaviours, and sleep problems.
The team of researchers led by Associate Professor Sylvia Gustin and Emotional Recovery Trainer, Nell Norman-Nott also included Dr Negin Hesam-Shariati, Dr Yann Quidé and Professor James McAuley from NeuRA and UNSW.
To learn more about the online emotional recovery program, please contact the Emotional Recovery Team at email@example.com.