Psychologists specializing in pain management focus on assisting individuals suffering from the consequences of an injury or illness, in dealing with residual pain, and in effecting life-style changes necessitated by their condition. Rather than concentrating on the deficiencies and limitations of an injury or illness and a (possibly elusive) cure, a client will be encouraged to explore individual strengths and assets that might facilitate the rehabilitation process. Treatment may include exploration of personal resources useful in the past (e.g. an immigrant's experience of adjustment to a new country), and/or offer an opportunity to learn and practice new skills and strategies to make adjustment to a dramatically changed situation less difficult.
Individuals suffering from the consequences of an injury or serious illness may experience a wide range of emotional difficulties, but these psychological problems are often secondary to their physical condition rather than an expression of a pervasive mental disorder. The goal of treatment is to assist "normal" or "psychologically healthy" individuals deal with and adjust to, an "abnormal" situation; treatment resources are drawn from a vast variety of research findings in the area of human learning and development.
It is possible to promote healing and to enhance and/or accelerate the rehabilitative process by assisting an individual in acquiring new or modifying existing mental skills. Areas of learning include pain and stress management (relaxation training, hypnosis/self-hypnosis, biofeedback training, drug and alcohol counselling, etc.), vocational re-orientation and career planning (via assessment and/or counselling), as well as dealing with health care professionals to ensure optimal care.
Treatment may include performance enhancement techniques similar to those used with athletes preparing for various levels of competition. Breathing techniques, imagery, and relaxation skills have been found to optimize and improve athletic performance. Similarly, individuals with physical limitations and residual chronic pain (for which traditional medical treatments like surgery or medication no longer may be appropriate and/or effective) can benefit from learning such skills. As they begin to use such strategies and learn to more effectively cope with the consequences of their injuries or illness, they become able to enhance their physical, mental, and/or cognitive functioning and, as a result, their quality of life.