"I don't have chronic back pain anymore": Patient Experiences in Pain Reprocessing Therapy for Chronic Back Pain

J Pain. 2023 Sep;24(9):1582-1593. doi: 10.1016/j.jpain.2023.04.006. Epub 2023 Apr 23.


In a recently published randomized controlled trial, two-thirds of the patients receiving a novel psychological treatment, pain reprocessing therapy (PRT), reported elimination or near-elimination of chronic back pain. The mechanisms of PRT and related treatments remain poorly understood but are hypothesized to center on pain reappraisal, fear reduction, and exposure-potentiated extinction. Here, we investigated treatment mechanisms from the participants' perspective. A sample of 32 adults with chronic back pain who received PRT completed semi-structured posttreatment interviews about their treatment experiences. The interviews were analyzed with multiphase thematic analysis. The analyses identified 3 major themes reflecting participants' understanding of how PRT led to pain relief: 1) reappraisal to reduce fear of pain, which included guiding participants to relate to pain as a helpful indicator, overcoming pain-related fear and avoidance, and reconceptualizing pain as a "sensation;" 2) the link between pain, emotions, and, stress, which included gaining insight into these connections and resolving difficult emotions; and 3) social connections, which included patient-provider alliance, therapist belief in the treatment model, and peer models of recovery from chronic pain. Our findings support the hypothesized mechanisms of PRT centered on pain reappraisal and fear reduction, but also highlight additional processes from the participants' perspective, including a focus on emotions and relationships. This study underscores the value of qualitative research methods in illuminating the mechanisms of novel pain therapies. PERSPECTIVE: This article presents participants' perspectives on their experience engaging in a novel psychotherapy for chronic pain, PRT. Through pain reappraisal, linking pain, emotions, and stress, and connecting with their therapist and peers, many participants reported an elimination or near-elimination of their chronic back pain with therapy.

Keywords: Pain psychology; back pain; pain reappraisal; pain reprocessing therapy; psychological interventions for pain.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Back Pain / therapy
  • Chronic Pain* / psychology
  • Chronic Pain* / therapy
  • Humans
  • Low Back Pain* / therapy
  • Pain Management / methods
  • Patient Outcome Assessment

Supplementary concepts

  • Phobia, Specific