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Description:  As a community, we are in need of practitioners who can work effectively with people suffering with chronic physical pain. This is especially pressing given the changes in prescription practices that are currently taking place around chronic pain management. This workshop will provide a framework and tools to translate what you may already be doing to treat emotional pain to work more effectively with individuals suffering with physical distress. In this workshop, Debbie will elaborate on the concept, experience, and treatment of “distress,” and how it encompasses physical and emotional suffering. She will draw from current brain research on pain and from third wave cognitive-behavioral therapies–dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) and other mindfulness-based approaches–to provide a rationale for what works and a roadmap for applying this to chronic pain in particular, whatever its root cause. This workshop will include a mix of didactic, experiential exercises, and case examples.


Deborah  (Debbie) Barrett, PhD, LCSW is a Clinical Associate Professor in the School of Social Work and the Department of Medicine in Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She founded the UNC Clinical Lecture Series in the School of Social Work in 2005, and Clinical Lecture Institutes in 2014, to enhance training opportunities for MSW students along with faculty and area practitioners. She is committed to increasing access to mental healthcare services, and helped found the Pro Bono Counseling Network, now housed at Freedom House, and continues to serve on its advisory board. Between 2006 and 2016, she co-facilitated two weekly low-fee DBT groups in private practice, and currently facilitates dialectical pain management groups at UNC Psychiatry outpatient practice, where she also works with individuals. She is passionate about improving life for individuals with chronic pain, and thus provides workshops whenever asked, and penned a self-help book on pain management.


Upon completion of this workshop, participants should increase their ability to effectively care for clients by being able to:

  • Describe concept of distress and its relevance in working effectively with both emotional and physical suffering
  • Explain the pain gate control theory and at least one way it applies to working with chronic physical pain
  • Explore the role of mindfulness practice as it applies to reducing suffering
  • Practice using at least 3 levels of validation in therapeutic work with individuals with chronic pain
  • Adapt at least 5 DBT skills to therapeutic work with individuals who have chronic pain
  • Understand how to apply at least 1 ACT concept to improving life for individuals with chronic pain
  • Akerblom, S., Perrin, S., Fischer, M., McCracken, L., (2015). The mediating role of acceptance in multidisciplinary cognitive-behavioral therapy for chronic pain. Journal of Pain, 16(7), 606-615.
  • Barrett, L., & Simmons, W. (2015). Interoceptive predictions in the brain. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 16(7), 419-429.
  • Gaillard, A. (2014). Emotional pain, physical pain: Neurobiological mechanisms and treatment. Annales Medico-Psychologiques, 172(2), 104-107.

Clinical Institute at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Social Work

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