AbstractBackground and aimsExposure in vivo for patients with fear-related chronic pain has a strong theoretical base as well as empirical support. However, the treatment does not work for every patient and overall the effect size is only moderate, underscoring the need for improved treatments. One possible way forward might be to integrate an emotion regulation approach since emotions are potent during exposure and because distressing emotions may both interfere with exposure procedures and patient motivation to engage in exposure. To this end, we proposed to incorporate an emotion-regulation focus into the standard exposure in vivo procedure, and delivered in the framework of achieving relevant personal goals. The aim of this study then was to test the feasibility of the method as well as to describe its effects.MethodWe tested a hybrid treatment combining an emotion-regulation approach informed by Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) with a traditional exposure protocol in a controlled, single-subject design where each of the six participants served as its own control. In this design participants first make ratings to establish a baseline from which results during treatment and the five month follow-up may then be compared. To achieve comparisons, participants completed diary booklets containing a variety of standardized measures including pain catastrophizing, pain intensity, acceptance, and function.ResultsCompared to baseline, all subjects improved on key variables, including catastrophizing, acceptance, and negative affect, at both post treatment and follow up. For 5 of the 6 subjects considerable gains were also made for pain intensity and physical function. Criteria were established for each measure to help determine whether the improvements were clinically significant. Five of the six participants had consistent results showing clinically significant improvements across all the measures. The sixth participant had mixed results demonstrating improvements on several variables, but not on pain intensity or function.ConclusionsThis emotion-regulation hybrid exposure intervention resulted in considerable improvements for the participants. The results of this study underscore the potential utility of addressing emotions in the treatment of chronic pain. Further, they support the idea that targeting emotional stimuli and using emotion regulation skills in conjunction with usual exposure may be important for obtaining the best results. Finally, we found that this treatment is feasible to provide and may be an important addition to usual exposure. However, since we did not directly compare this hybrid treatment with other treatments, additional research is needed before firm conclusions can be made.ImplicationsAddressing emotional distress in the treatment of patients suffering chronic pain appears to be quite relevant. Emotion regulation skills, employed together with exposure in vivo, hold the promise of being useful tools for achieving better results for patients suffering fear-related and emotionally distressing chronic pain.
Scandinavian Journal of Pain – de Gruyter
Published: Jul 1, 2014
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