University at Buffalo

Behavioral Medicine Clinic


Understanding Your Patient

Many patients suffering from persistent pain are reluctant to seek treatment or have been frustrated by previous interactions with health care professionals. You can play a crucial role in guiding these patients to take control over symptoms that don?t fully respond to medical treatments by keeping in mind the following communication tips.

Acknowledge Seriousness

Behavioral treatments combine a variety of behavioral change strategies based on a biopsychosocial approach. Behavioral approaches emphasize teaching patients evidence-based tools and strategies for controlling pain symptoms and reducing their day-to-day burden. Often, patients find that others trivialize their condition, telling them, “It’s all in your head.” As a trusted health care professional to whom your patients are looking for expert guidance, your recognition that their pain is real and serious can persuade patients to seek treatment and begin returning their lives to normal. Your advice can go a long way in helping them, and you, manage their symptoms more effectively.

In offering reassurance to your patients, it is important to avoid statements that may be interpreted as dismissive, for example: “It’s nothing to worry about,” or “It’s just stress.” Patients need to hear words that reflect an understanding of the legitimacy of the disorder regardless of the lack of underlying organicity.

By explaining to patients that their disorder has both behavioral and biological components — that it's not “all in their heads,” as some health care providers and acquaintances may have told them — you can reassure them that there are facets of the disorders and its symptoms that can be helped.


Knowing more about their disorder can help people overcome their fear, embarrassment, or skepticism about treatment. For example, your patients may benefit from hearing that many other people have their disorder. Point out that treatment can make a significant difference in their lives in just weeks or months. Make the patient an active, fully informed participant in the treatment planning process.


There are specialists who have treated others with the same or similar pain disorders and symptoms as your patients. These specialists have a wealth of experience and knowledge that can aid in their treatment. If you have a patient who is suffering from pain that medications or other therapies are not effectively controlling, the Behavioral Medicine Clinic may be able to help. Encourage him or her to contact the BMC online or call us at 716-898-5671.