What is Pain Reprocessing Therapy (PRT) and How Can It Help

Pain Reprocessing Therapy (PRT) is a relatively new treatment that is proving to be an effective way to change your relationship with pain. For those struggling with chronic pain or similar issues that reduce their quality of life, PRT can help the brain reprocess how it interprets and responds to pain. 

To fully understand how PRT works, you first have to understand how your brain and pain are connected. 

PRT theorizes that most types of chronic pain are not due to physical injury in the body, but pain originates because of how your brain is working. It is essential to understand that PRT does not imply that pain is “in your head” or imagined. This is a common misconception and can make many people feel angry and invalidated. The distinction here is that the brain can generate real, physical pain due to being stuck in the sympathetic, or fight-or-flight response. Pain can also be learned and perpetuated due to neural pathways in the brain and how you respond when the fear pathways are activated. PRT can help the brain reprocess your response to pain.

How Does Pain Reprocessing Therapy Work?

PRT may be new, but there’s no denying the great need for it. Chronic pain affects about 50 million adults in the U.S., and often patients are told there is often no “cure.”

This type of therapy looks at the brain science behind pain. It utilizes psychological techniques to retrain the brain and how it responds to signals from the body. 

How does that work, exactly? 

Essentially, PRT helps you to unlearn old patterns and conditioned responses. When you experience pain, over time you’ve conditioned yourself to think and behave in certain ways around pain. Your brain often associates pain with fear, frustration, and even anger. Over time, we develop triggers that we associate with these negative emotions and our brain becomes engaged in a pain-fear cycle.  

PRT is designed to break the cycle of those conditioned responses. 

According to the JAMA Psychiatry paper, there are three steps to the PRT protocol: 

  1. “An in-depth medical and psychological assessment generating personalized evidence for centralized pain.”
  2. “Reattribution of pain to reversible learning- and affect-related brain processes rather than bodily injury.”
  3. “A unique combination of cognitive, somatic, and exposure-based techniques supporting pain reappraisal.”

Using different techniques, therapists who practice PRT can help their patients dismantle previous pain processes and create new responses that approach pain from a place of safety.

Is PRT Really Effective?

PRT is an evidence-based treatment and while more research needs to be done, what has already been captured is remarkable. A study recently published in JAMA Psychiatry based out of CU Boulder provides strong evidence that this non-drug, therapeutic treatment can provide significant, long-lasting relief. The Boulder back pain study found that almost two-thirds of patients who went through PRT were completely or nearly pain-free by the end of their treatment. And many maintained this response a year later.

PRT is also able to work with other types of therapies. For example, if your physical pain was caused by abuse or an accident, you may also benefit from trauma therapy at the same time. 

The idea of reprocessing your brain isn’t something new. Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy has been used successfully for years to help individuals think differently about a traumatic experience. PRT uses a similar brain-based approach, but with physical pain associations instead of specific traumatic memories.

Whatever triggered your pain, it’s important to know that you don’t have to keep living with it forever. You don’t have to keep going from doctor to doctor, exploring treatments that may only provide temporary relief. 

If you’re ready to try something new and effective, consider PRT. So far, it’s been proven to be a long-term solution that will help you do more than manage pain. Instead, it will help you get the underlying cause of pain: your brain. We have two therapists trained in PRT on staff who would be happy to work with you. And we also offer small groups focused on PRT. Feel free to contact us for more information on PRT or to set up a consultation.

4400 East-West Hwy Suite C/E,
Bethesda, MD 20814
202-656-3376

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