Examining The Role of Spirituality In Chronic Pain Management

Dr. Stephen F. Grinstead, LMFT, ACRPS

It is Crucial to Add Spirituality in Chronic Pain Management Plan

Chronic pain is often misunderstood and undertreated. In addition to the biopsychosocial impact a chronic pain condition frequently has on a person, a spiritual crisis often accompanies the situation as well. Long-term chronic pain is a body-mind-spiritual problem that requires a multifaceted chronic pain management solution including Spirituality. I believe that complementary spiritual practices are crucial components of an effective chronic pain management plan.

The concept of spiritual pain requires healthcare providers to go beyond the bounds of traditional clinical treatments and be prepared to devote the time required to give supportive and understanding care. It is crucial to explore the role of spirituality in chronic pain management and its impact on a person’s pain in a multidimensional assessment.

It’s Time To Think Outside The Box

Spirituality is a vital aspect of being human which is difficult to fully understand or measure using scientific methods; yet convincing evidence in medical literature supports its beneficial role in the practice of medicine including chronic pain management. It will take many more years of study to understand exactly which aspects of spirituality hold the most benefit for health and well-being.

Many of the world’s great wisdom traditions suggest that some of the most important aspects of spirituality lie in the sense of connection, inner strength, comfort, love and peace that individuals derive from their relationship with self, others, nature and the transcendent.

I believe that spiritual healing is an important component of a multifaceted chronic pain management treatment plan. One goal of spiritual healing is to help patients improve their well-being and quality of life, rather than to cure specific diseases or in this case eliminate pain. Spirituality as part of a treatment plan may include encouraging patients to use visualization, prayer and positive thinking.

As chronic pain impacts a person’s body, mind and spirit, the solution must also address those domains. Effectively managing this requires a multidisciplinary approach that would greatly benefit from adding a spiritual healing practitioner to the team. The ultimate goal of any effective chronic pain management plan is to help create a shift physically, emotionally, socially and spiritually so a client can leave behind the long dark tunnel of pain their life had become.

The Difference Between Religion and Spirituality

Over the years I have found it important to have a discussion with my patients regarding spirituality as a crucial component of their chronic pain management plan. It’s important to clarify terms at this point, as a common understanding of terminology is essential as is an understanding of what their beliefs are.

One concept that rang true was the simple saying: “Religion prepares people for the next life while spirituality helps them live this life to their fullest potential.” Many of my colleagues also recommend clarifying the difference between the terms “spirituality” and “religion.” They advocate developing a broad-based definition of spirituality that encompasses religious and nonreligious perspectives.

Spirituality is a complex and multidimensional part of the human experience. It involves beliefs, perceptions, thinking, feeling, experiences and behavior aspects. Thoughts, beliefs and perceptions include the search for meaning, purpose and truth in life as well as the values by which a person lives their life. Experiences and emotions involve feelings of hope, love, connection, inner peace, comfort and support. Behaviors involve the way a person externally demonstrates their individual spiritual beliefs and inner spiritual state.

Spirituality Defined 

A major challenge is that many people confuse religion with spirituality. Although the terms religion and spirituality are sometimes seen as one and the same, they are separate concepts. Religion is an organized faith system grounded in institutional standards, practices, and core beliefs; whereas spirituality is grounded in personal beliefs and practices which can be experienced with or without a formal religion and can vary widely depending on an individual’s personality.

Miriam Webster Online Dictionary states: 1. something that in ecclesiastical law belongs to the church or to a cleric as such; 2. clergy; 3. sensitivity or attachment to religious values 4. the quality or state of being spiritual.

The online Wikipedia Encyclopedia defines spirituality as: Spirituality is relating to, consisting of, or having the nature of spirit; not tangible or material. Synonyms include immaterialism, dualism, incorporeality and eternity. Spirituality is associated with religion, deities, the supernatural, and an afterlife, although the decline of organized religion in the West and the growth of secularism has brought about a wider understanding of its nature.

Developing An Effective Spiritual Treatment Plan

I have always believed that the Spiritual component is the most important part of a treatment plan for people with chronic pain and coexisting disorders. I always assess where people are in this domain and most have scored extremely low. The next step is to discover with them what Spiritual Values, Practices and Principles they need to incorporate into their Chronic Pain Management Treatment Plan. This in turn will enable them to stop suffering with their chronic pain and that is a goal worth playing for.

Dr. Grinstead was the Co-Founder and Chief Clinical Officer of a Residential and Intensive Outpatient Triple Diagnosis Chronic Pain Management Program in California. He is author of the book Thank You Adversity For Yet Another Test: A Body Mind Spirit Approach for Relieving Chronic Pain Suffering, as well as author of several other pain management books. Dr. Grinstead is an internationally recognized expert in preventing relapse related to addiction and chronic pain disorders and is the developer of the Addiction-Free Pain Management® System. He has been working with chronic pain management, substance use disorders and coexisting mental and personality disorders since 1984. www.drstevegrinstead.com