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How Psychologists Help Fibromyalgia Patients

Pain, Especially Fibromyalgia Pain, Isn't Always Just Physical

Peer Reviewed

About 30% of people with fibromyalgia experience depression, anxiety, or some form of mood disturbance. Researchers haven't yet determined whether fibromyalgia actually causes these conditions or vice versa, but what has become clear is that when your mental state succumbs to your physical pain, your physical pain gets stronger. That's why your doctor may recommend you visit a counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist.

Fibromyalgia is a complicated condition. Its symptoms are varied and will often impact your life in ways that transcend physical pain. The pain and fatigue alone can be enough to negatively alter your lifestyle, thus affecting your mood. To take control of your symptoms, you may need to take a multi-disciplinary approach—incorporating medications, physical therapy, and psychology.

Mental and emotional therapy may be just one part of your fibromyalgia treatment plan. To connect to more resources that will help you understand all the ways you might reduce your chronic pain, read our article about all fibromyalgia treatments.

The Difference Between Depression and Anxiety

People often group depression and anxiety together. It's true that you may be depressed and anxious, but they're not synonymous disorders.

Depression is characterized by extreme, chronic sadness. You might say you're depressed after a particularly bad day at work, but actual depression is much more significant.

People handle depression in their own way. Maybe you cry or lash out in anger. You may spend most days in bed or excessively eat in response to your pain. Whatever the reason, what's most important is recognizing the change in your behavior. If you find yourself thinking, "I never used to feel this way. My life used to be better," then talk to your doctor or therapist.

Anxiety, on the other hand, is known for its consuming feelings of panic, fear, and excessive worry. You may feel like your heart is racing, so much in fact that you may confuse your anxiety with a heart problem.

The Fibromyalgia Connection
To help understand how fibromyalgia relates to depression and anxiety, and to see the differences between depression and anxiety, compare some of the symptoms in the table below.

Note: the symbols denote symptoms most commonly associated with the disorder (i.e., it's possible to experience less sleep than normal if you have depression, but it's more common that you will sleep more than usual).

Symptom Fibromyalgia Depression Anxiety

Aggression or anger

x

x

 

Appetite changes

x

x

x

Helplessness

x

x

x

Panic or fear

 

 

x

Less sleep

x

 

x

More sleep

 

x

 

Trouble concentrating

x

 

 

Finding a Mental Health Professional if You Have Fibromyalgia

There are many types of professionals, including licensed professional counselors (LPCs), psychologists, and psychiatrists that are trained to diagnose and treat whatever mental or emotional pain you're experiencing. Your doctor will help you choose which one will best help you.

LPCs require a master's degree in counseling and may diagnose and treat mental and emotional disorders. Psychologists, a separate group of non-physician mental health professionals, have doctorate degrees and treat emotional problems using therapies (ie, cognitive-behavioral therapy). Psychiatrists are medical doctors who are licensed to prescribe medications that will help your depression and/or anxiety.

As you undoubtedly know, the physical pain of fibromyalgia is debilitating. When you add in the impact it has on your mental and emotional state, it can seriously damage your quality of life.

Recognizing that your pain isn't just physical can be difficult, and visiting a mental health professional may be daunting, but doing so can reduce your fibromyalgia pain. Even if you don't require medication, visiting a mental health professional can be an extremely beneficial experience. You can talk openly about your experience with fibromyalgia, which can be therapeutic in itself.

If you have fibromyalgia and notice a change in your outlook on life, don't hesitate to seek the help of mental health professional. The ultimate goal is to help you feel better about yourself and reclaim a full, happy life.

Updated on: 02/27/13
Edward J. Kowlowitz, MD
This article was reviewed by Edward J. Kowlowitz, MD.
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