Pain is a human experience that is not completely understood. So I learned at the International Pelvic Pain Society meeting in San Diego last weekend. What is known is that pain comes from the brain. An injured area sends signals to the brain, and the brain makes an interpretation. The brain also contains the mind. The mind is conscious and unconscious thought, past experience, and emotion, and it makes a contribution to the interpretation of pain as well.
How a person experiences pain is affected by the person’s past experience with pain, including observing family members and others cope with pain. It is also affected by thoughts, such as, “I cannot deal with this any longer,” or “I don’t like this pain at all, but it is getting a little better every day.” The interpretation of pain also depends on how well rested one is, one’s diet, and amount of exercise.
When a woman has chronic pelvic pain, the pain is real, but there are things that can be done to help make it manageable or tolerable. Most medical doctors and other healthcare providers know this, but they don’t have the time or the complete skill set to help. A psychologist or other psychotherapist has specialized training in pain management that can help. You don’t have to be mentally ill to use the services of a psychologist, just someone who wants a better quality of life.
Sometimes painful conditions like vulvodynia get in the way of having a good sex life. That’s where a psychologist with training as a sex therapist can be helpful, too. A psychologist can help someone make changes that make a sex life still possible. Learning to communicate about sex or how to have an enjoyable sex life without intercourse are just two of the ways a psychologist can help.
Painful conditions that can affect someone’s sex life include vulvodynia (pain of the vulvar region outside the vagina), vaginismus (spasm that prevents penetration, dyspareunia (pain with intercourse) and interstitial cystitis (painful bladder syndrome). Keeping a pain diary, learning relaxation, and changing one’s thoughts about pain can help pain get better. Most people who see a psychologist are happy with their choice and feel that it was a good investment in improving their health.