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BMC Psychology - Review of psych therapies for pain finds evidence is weak. August 2017

An umbrella review of the literature on the effectiveness of psychological interventions for pain reduction


Psychological interventions are widely implemented for pain management and treatment, but their reported effectiveness shows considerable variation and there is elevated likelihood for bias.

We summarized the strength of evidence and extent of potential biases in the published literature of psychological interventions for pain treatment using a range of criteria, including the statistical significance of the random effects summary estimate and of the largest study of each meta-analysis, number of participants, 95% prediction intervals, between-study heterogeneity, small-study effects and excess significance bias.

Thirty-eight publications were identified, investigating 150 associations between several psychological interventions and 29 different types of pain. Of the 141 associations based on only randomized controlled trials, none presented strong or highly suggestive evidence by satisfying all the aforementioned criteria. The effect of psychological interventions on reducing cancer pain severity, pain in patients with arthritis, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, breast cancer, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, self-reported needle-related pain in children/adolescents or with chronic musculoskeletal pain, chronic non-headache pain and chronic pain in general were supported by suggestive evidence.

The present findings reveal the lack of strong supporting empirical evidence for the effectiveness of psychological treatments for pain management and highlight the need to further evaluate the established approach of psychological interventions to ameliorate pain.


Senior Member
This study was performed by a group with close links to John Ioannidis, and they applied his methodology in their analysis.

For those of you unaware, Ioannidis is the person who made the world aware of the "reproducability crisis" - he is a giant in medical research.

This paper's Ioannidis connection gives it gravitas. That's relevant to us bc psych interventions for pain are only one step away from psych interventions for fatigue: the credability of this type of intervention is now being questioned by the most influential skeptics in medicine.