Pain Psychology: A Global Needs Assessment and National Call to Action

Pain Med. 2016 Feb;17(2):250-63. doi: 10.1093/pm/pnv095. Epub 2016 Jan 23.


Objective: The Institute of Medicine and the draft National Pain Strategy recently called for better training for health care clinicians. This was the first high-level needs assessment for pain psychology services and resources in the United States.

Design: Prospective, observational, cross-sectional.

Methods: Brief surveys were administered online to six stakeholder groups (psychologists/therapists, individuals with chronic pain, pain physicians, primary care physicians/physician assistants, nurse practitioners, and the directors of graduate and postgraduate psychology training programs).

Results: 1,991 responses were received. Results revealed low confidence and low perceived competency to address physical pain among psychologists/therapists, and high levels of interest and need for pain education. We found broad support for pain psychology across stakeholder groups, and global support for a national initiative to increase pain training and competency in U.S. therapists. Among directors of graduate and postgraduate psychology training programs, we found unanimous interest for a no-cost pain psychology curriculum that could be integrated into existing programs. Primary barriers to pain psychology include lack of a system to identify qualified therapists, paucity of therapists with pain training, limited awareness of the psychological treatment modality, and poor insurance coverage.

Conclusions: This report calls for transformation within psychology predoctoral and postdoctoral education and training and psychology continuing education to include and emphasize pain and pain management. A system for certification is needed to facilitate quality control and appropriate reimbursement. There is a need for systems to facilitate identification and access to practicing psychologists and therapists skilled in the treatment of pain.

Keywords: Chronic Pain; Education; Pain Management; Pain Training Programs; Psychology.

Publication types

  • Observational Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Chronic Pain / epidemiology
  • Chronic Pain / psychology*
  • Chronic Pain / therapy
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Global Health*
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Health Personnel / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Needs Assessment*
  • Pain Management / methods
  • Pain Management / psychology*
  • Patient Participation / psychology*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States / epidemiology