Living with Chronic Pain

Psychology providing a way forward for the 1 in 3 Australians living with pain

More than 1 in 3 Australians are living with chronic pain but many people aren’t aware that treatment and support from a psychologist can help them to live better, more comfortable lives, according to new research released today in the Australian Pain and Psychology Report 2020.

The Australian Psychological Society (APS) and the Australian College of Applied Psychology (ACAP) have undertaken a comprehensive, nationwide survey of more than 1000 Australians that confirms the extent and impact of pain in our society.

APS President Tamara Cavenett said more than a third (35%) of Australians experience chronic pain and for adults 65 years and older that goes up to almost 1 in 2 (49%).

“Psychological treatments, particularly cognitive behaviour therapy, are among the few evidence-based treatments available to help these people.

“Unfortunately, most of the people we surveyed told us they weren’t aware of this.

“However at least 3 in 5 Australians – with and without pain – told us they are willing to receive psychological treatment for their pain, now that they know it is an option,” she said.

Ms Cavenett said the APS wanted to build understanding and awareness of the many ways psychology and psychologists can assist Australians living with pain.

“This isn’t a case of a psychologist telling you your pain is ‘all in the mind’. In fact, behaviour change is a fundamental aspect of the pain experience.

“Psychologists – as experts in behaviour change – are well placed to provide assessment and intervention strategies for pain management.

“Psychologists can assist with the psychological factors connected to pain, such as distress, reduced self-efficacy, and sleeping difficulties.

“We can work with people to teach skills to change unhelpful thoughts and behaviours, self-manage their symptoms over the long-term, and to overcome barriers to recovery.

“And we can work to address the factors of mental ill-health, which sadly occur at a disproportionately higher rate amongst people experiencing pain,” she said.

APS Chief Executive Officer Dr Zena Burgess said pain had a profound impact on individuals, families, communities and workplaces where people often suffer in silence, but reiterated that help is available.

“Chronic or persistent pain can impact a person and the people close to them in a number of ways, including poor physical health, emotional distress, reduced capacity to work, and social isolation.

“More than 1 in 5 Australians with non-chronic pain are at risk of long-term disability and reduced likelihood of returning to work due to their pain.

“It is not surprising that chronic pain has an annual economic impact of up to $139.3 billion,” she said.

Dr Burgess said the APS has called on Government and stakeholders to take action.

“There are several ways we can reduce the dysfunction associated with pain, and improve the quality of life and capacity to work for people experiencing pain.

“It is broadly accepted that pain is multifaceted, and therefore best practice in pain management requires a multidisciplinary approach that includes psychologists.

“The APS wants to see the introduction of new Medicare items and expansion of existing items to facilitate better access to psychologists and other allied health and medical professionals, as part of pain assessment, management and treatment,” she said.

Key survey findings:

  • More than 1 in 3 (35%) Australians experience chronic pain
  • Almost 1 in 2 (49%) adults 65 years and older experience chronic pain
  • More than 1 in 5 Australians with non-chronic pain are at risk of long-term disability and reduced likelihood of returning to work, due to their pain
  • Despite psychological treatments being one of the few evidence-based treatments for pain, Australians with pain have limited awareness of and experience with psychological treatment options for pain:
    • Almost 9 in 10 (87%) of those with chronic pain had not seen a psychologist about their pain
    • Almost 3 in 5 (57%) of those with pain and almost 4 in 5 (74%) of those without pain were not aware that psychologists could help with pain
  • Most Australians who have seen a psychologist about pain view psychological treatment as an important part of their recovery
    • 71% viewed psychology as extremely or moderately important in helping them with their pain
    • 75% felt their pain was better since starting psychological treatment
  • Those with pain who have not had psychological treatment are open to it but have concerns about accessing it.

For a copy of the full report, and for more information about Psychology Week visit

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