Better Pain Free: Using Your Mind to Overcome Pain

Better Pain Free: Using Your Mind to Overcome Pain Listen To This Episode on Apple Podcasts

In this episode we discuss the impact of the mind on how we perceive and manage chronic pain. We have all heard the concept of mind over matter and the importance of having the right mindset to overcome adversity and to succeed. But can your state of mind impact how you actually experience pain? And to that extent, can psychotherapy teach your mind to process chronic pain differently so as to make it less debilitating? Now in asking these questions, we are in no way implying that pain is “all in your head.” Rather, we are exploring if and how the mind can be trained to perceive and process pain signals from the rest of the body in a way that makes living with chronic pain manageable. To answer these questions we spoke to a researcher who has been studying this fascinating topic and whose recently published, groundbreaking study has yielded some pretty dramatic results.

This Episode's Guest:
Tor Wager, PhD

Dr.Tor Wager is the Diana L. Taylor Distinguished Professor in Neuroscience at Dartmouth College. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan in Cognitive Psychology in 2003, and served as an Assistant (2004-2008) and Associate Professor (2009) at Columbia University, and as Associate (2010-2014) and Full Professor (2014-2019) at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Since 2004, he has directed the Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience laboratory, a research lab devoted to work on the neurophysiology of affective processes—pain, emotion, stress, and empathy—and how they are shaped by cognitive and social influences.

Additional Resources Suggested by Our Guest:
Scientific papers
The JAMA Psychiatry study testing effects of Pain Reprocessing Therapy on brain and clinical outcomes.
Supplementary information with more details on the treatment, and videos from patients who agreed to share their experiences publicly.
Papers on the fear-avoidance model of chronic pain, including this.
Papers on the idea of chronic pain as a brain disorder, including this and this.
Papers on the relationships between thoughts, the brain, and physical health, including thisthisthis, and this.
In-person/virtual treatment options
Treatment options for working with a person include the Pain Psychology Center in LA, Dr. Schubiner, and potentially many other pain centers, though they vary in the approaches used. Some incorporate many similar principles, and others take different approaches. Common principles include:
(1) separating pain from injury and realizing that much pain is non-damaging,
(2) exposure to fear-inducing and painful movements that are determined to be non-damaging,
(3) reduction of opioid use, which can promote long-term pain and inflammation,
(4) exercise and engagement in social and physical activities, which have multiple benefits for brain and body
Online resources
Some of the news coverage on the JAMA Psychiatry article may also be of interest. Here is a good article, and here.
There are many other resources online for explaining some concepts underlying the treatment.
One is Dr. Howard Schubiner’s website,, which includes some helpful videos. Some others include and
Unlearn Your Pain by Howard Schubiner
The Way Out by Alan Gordon and Alon Ziv
Back in Control by David Hanscom
The Mindbody Prescription by John Sarno 
Explain Pain by Butler and Moseley
There are several new apps that are loosely based on similar principles:
Many of the ideas underlying this treatment, and some case studies, are illustrated in the film This Might Hurt.