Happy despite pain: Pilot study of a positive psychology intervention for patients with chronic pain

Ida K. Flink*, Elke Smeets, Sofia Bergbom, Madelon L. Peters

*Corresponding author for this work

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Background and purpose: Dealing with chronic pain is difficult and affects physiological as well as psychological well-being. Patients with chronic pain are often reporting concurrent emotional problems such as low mood and depressive symptoms. Considering this, treatments need to involve strategies for improving mood and promoting well-being in this group of patients. With the rise of the positive psychology movement, relatively simple intervention strategies to increase positive feelings, cognitions, and behaviours have become available. So far, the evidence for positive psychology techniques mainly comes from studies with healthy participants, and from studies with patients expressing emotional problems such as depression or anxiety as their main complaint. This study describes an initial attempt to explore the potential effects of a positive psychology intervention in a small sample of patients suffering from chronic pain. Methods: A replicated single case design was employed with five participants. The participants started to fill out daily self-reports and weekly questionnaires two weeks before the intervention started, and continued throughout the intervention. In addition, they filled out a battery of questionnaires at pretest, posttest, and at a three months follow-up. The instruments for assessment were selected to cover areas and constructs which are important for pain problems in general (e.g. disability, life satisfaction, central psychological factors) as well as more specific constructs from positive psychology (e.g. compassion, savoring beliefs). Results: The results on pre and post assessments showed an effect on some of the measures. However, according to a more objective measure of reliable change (Reliable Change Index, RCI), the effects were quite modest. On the weekly measures, there was a trend towards improvements for three of the participants, whereas the other two basically did not show any improvement. The daily ratings were rather difficult to interpret because of their large variability, both between and within individuals. For the group of participants as a whole, the largest improvements were on measures of disability and catastrophizing. Conclusions: The results of this preliminary study indicate that a positive psychology intervention may have beneficial effects for some chronic pain patients. Although it is not to be expected that a limited positive psychology intervention on its own is sufficient to treat pain-related disability in chronic patients, our findings suggest that for some it may be an advantageous complement to enhance the effects of other interventions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)71-79
JournalScandinavian Journal of Pain
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2015


  • Positive psychology
  • Single case design
  • Chronic pain

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