Improve the Mental Health of Chronic Pain Patients with Mindfulness Training Over the Internet.
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“Daily mindfulness practice can be helpful for people living with chronic pain because sometimes there are negative or worrisome thoughts about the pain. These thoughts are normal, and can affect mood and increase pain. Being able to focus on relaxing the body, noticing the breath and body sensations as being there just as they are, can help manage pain, as well as reduce depression and anxiety symptoms.” – Amanda Necker
We all have to deal with pain. It’s inevitable, but hopefully it’s mild and short lived. For a wide swath of humanity, however, pain is a constant in their lives. At least 100 million adult Americans have chronic pain conditions. The most common treatment for chronic pain is drugs. These include over-the-counter analgesics and opioids. But opioids are dangerous and highly addictive. Prescription opioid overdoses kill more than 14,000 people annually. So, there is a great need to find safe and effective ways to lower the psychological distress and improve the individual’s ability to cope with the pain.
There is an accumulating volume of research findings that demonstrate that mindfulness practices, in general, are effective in treating pain. A therapeutic technique that contains mindfulness training and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). It focuses on the individual’s thoughts, feelings, and behavior and how they interact to impact their psychological and physical well-being. It then works to change thinking to alter the interaction and produce greater life satisfaction. ACT employs mindfulness practices to increase awareness and develop an attitude of acceptance and compassion in the presence of painful thoughts and feelings. ACT teaches individuals to “just notice”, accept and embrace private experiences and focus on behavioral responses that produce more desirable outcomes.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) requires a scheduled program of sessions with a trained therapist. This results in costs that many clients can’t afford. In addition, the participants must be available to attend multiple sessions at particular scheduled times that may or may not be compatible with their busy schedules and at locations that may not be convenient. As an alternative, mindfulness training over the internet have been developed. These have tremendous advantages in decreasing costs, making training schedules much more flexible, and eliminating the need to go repeatedly to specific locations. In addition, research has indicated that mindfulness training online can be effective for improving the health and well-being of the participants.
In today’s Research News article “Internet-delivered acceptance and commitment therapy (iACT) for chronic pain-feasibility and preliminary effects in clinical and self-referred patients.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7327284/ ) Rickardsson and colleagues recruited chronic pain patients and provided them with 10 weeks of 4 times per week 15 minute programmed Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) delivered via the internet. Therapists interacted with the individual participants via text once a week for 12 weeks. They were measured before and after training and at 3 and 12-month follow-ups for pain interference, psychological flexibility, value orientation, quality of life, pain intensity, insomnia, anxiety, and depression.
They found that following treatment there were significant improvements in pain interference, psychological inflexibility, value progress, value obstruction, QoL, depressive symptoms, pain intensity, anxiety and insomnia. These improvements were maintained at the 3 and 12-month follow-ups.
This was a pilot study without a comparison condition. As such, it must be interpreted with caution. But the results suggest that Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) can be effectively delivered via the internet with the suggestion that it produced lasting improvements in the psychological health of the chronic pain patients. The internet delivery is important as it allows for convenient, cost-effective, mass delivery of the program. This makes it a particularly desirable therapeutic method for the treatment of patients with chronic pain.
So, improve the mental health of chronic pain patients with mindfulness training over the internet.
“Mindfulness can help you . . . to reduce the suffering associated with pain without necessarily reducing the severity of the pain itself. It can also help you approach your pain with less fear and more acceptance, allowing you to live life fully, even though you have pain.” – Andrea Uptmor
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Rickardsson, J., Zetterqvist, V., Gentili, C., Andersson, E., Holmström, L., Lekander, M., Persson, M., Persson, J., Ljótsson, B., & Wicksell, R. K. (2020). Internet-delivered acceptance and commitment therapy (iACT) for chronic pain-feasibility and preliminary effects in clinical and self-referred patients. mHealth, 6, 27. https://doi.org/10.21037/mhealth.2020.02.02
Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) is an evidence-based treatment to improve functioning and quality of life (QoL) for chronic pain patients, but outreach of this treatment is unsatisfactory. Internet-delivery has been shown to increase treatment access but there is limited evidence regarding feasibility and effectiveness of web-based ACT for chronic pain. The aim of the study was to evaluate and iterate a novel internet-delivered ACT program, iACT, in a clinical and a self-referred sample of chronic pain patients. The intervention was developed in close collaboration with patients. To enhance learning, content was organized in short episodes to promote daily engagement in treatment. In both the clinical and self-referred samples, three critical domains were evaluated: (I) feasibility (acceptability, practicality and usage); (II) preliminary efficacy on pain interference, psychological inflexibility, value orientation, QoL, pain intensity, anxiety, insomnia and depressive symptoms; and (III) potential treatment mechanisms.
This was an open pilot study with two samples: 15 patients from a tertiary pain clinic and 24 self-referred chronic pain participants, recruited from October 2015 until January 2017. Data were collected via an online platform in free text and self-report measures, as well as through individual oral feedback. Group differences were analyzed with Chi square-, Mann-Whitney U- or t-test. Preliminary efficacy and treatment mechanism data were collected via self-report and analyzed with multilevel linear modeling for repeated measures.
Feasibility: patient feedback guided modifications to refine the intervention and indicated that iACT was acceptable in both samples. User insights provided input for both immediate and future actions to improve feasibility. Comprehensiveness, workability and treatment credibility were adequate in both samples. Psychologists spent on average 13.5 minutes per week per clinical patient, and 8 minutes per self-referred patient (P=0.004). Recruitment rate was 24 times faster in the self-referred sample (24 patients in 1 month, compared to 15 patients in 15 months, P<0.001) and the median distance to the clinic was 40 km in the clinical sample, and 426 km in the self-referred sample (P<0.001). Preliminary effects: post-assessments were completed by 26 participants (67%). Significant effects of time were seen from pre- to post-treatment across all outcome variables. Within group effect sizes (Cohen’s d) at post-treatment ranged from small to large: pain interference (d=0.64, P<0.001), psychological inflexibility (d=1.43, P<0.001), value progress (d=0.72, P<0.001), value obstruction (d=0.42, P<0.001), physical QoL (d=0.41, P=0.005), mental QoL (d=0.67, P=0.005), insomnia (d=0.31, P<0.001), depressive symptoms (d=0.47, P<0.001), pain intensity (d=0.78, P=0.001) and anxiety (d=0.46, P<0.001). Improvements were sustained at 1-year follow-up. Psychological inflexibility and value progress were found to be potential treatment mechanisms.
The results from the present study suggests that iACT was feasible in both the clinical and the self-referred sample. Together with the positive preliminary results on all outcomes, the findings from this feasibility study pave the way for a subsequent large randomized efficacy trial.