The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 6% of the world population may have Fibromyalgia. Most people living with this painful and debilitating condition have tried countless medications, had batteries of medical tests and remain desperate for more, eager to regain their footing in work, relationships and general functioning. Facing an overwhelmed and frustrating medical system, the growing trend is for physicians – both primary care and pain specialists – to refer these patients for CBT. While this is great news in many ways, many practitioners are lacking specific tools for breaking the cycle of chronic pain. How, then, can CBT help Fibro?
Cognitive Behavioral Theory is based on the idea that the mind and body affect one another. A change in one’s thinking can lead to changes in behavior, and changes in behavior can result in changed thinking. With this in mind, CBT can be a highly effective treatment model for Fibromyalgia by harnessing the power of the mind to override the body’s pain signals. This might seem daunting at the outset, so let’s break it down into smaller pieces.
Generally speaking, there are four non-medical components to CBT for Fibro that contribute to recovery. They are:
- Basic Functioning
- Lifestyle changes
CBT can be critical in acute stages of a Fibro flare, when the desire to stay in bed overrides the desire to live a normal life. By addressing thoughts that are keeping the patient in bed, as well as introducing habits that encourage normal routine, the therapist can re-start the engine that has stalled.
Mindfulness, guided meditation and focused relaxation techniques can all be used to reduce pain in the body. For example, when we feel pain, we unconsciously tense our muscles in order to prepare for more. This act of clenching increases pain, and meditation can teach the conscious mind to unclench, thereby greatly reducing pain.
Lifestyle changes are hard, and that much more so with Fibro. CBT can help by mapping out methodical, realistic steps toward change in diet and exercise habits that support wellness, reduce inflammation and increase energy.
In my own practice I have discovered that tracking a number of parameters, including pain, mood, food, exercise, meditation and adjunct treatment (such as acupuncture) can have a tremendous impact on treatment results. Tracking gives the Fibro sufferer a more accurate view of their progress than memory alone. In some cases, tracking alone is enough to shift the mindset of the client and they begin to feel better.
Sara Halevi, MA is the founder of FibroConsulting, an online training institute for practitioners. FibroConsulting offers courses, lectures and tools for the successful treatment of Fibromyalgia.