Emotional Awareness and Expression Therapy for Chronic Pain: Rationale, Principles and Techniques, Evidence, and Critical Review
Purpose of Review
Patients with chronic pain, especially primary or centralized pain, have elevated rates of psychosocial trauma and intrapersonal or intrapsychic conflict.
To address these risk factors and potentially reduce pain, the authors developed emotional awareness and expression therapy (EAET).
This article presents the rationale for EAET, describes its principles and techniques, reviews its development and early testing as well as recent clinical trials, and critically analyzes the evidence base.
Four initial trials (between 2006 and 2011) demonstrated the efficacy of earlier versions of EAET.
Four recent randomized, controlled trials of different EAET durations (1 to 8 sessions) and formats (individual or group) in patients with fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, pelvic pain, or medically unexplained symptoms support the earlier findings. EAET reliably reduces pain and interference, although improvements in anxiety and depression are less reliably achieved and may be delayed. The largest and best conducted trial found superiority of EAET over cognitive-behavioral therapy for fibromyalgia.
Patient retention in EAET is high, and adverse events are rare.
EAET merits inclusion as a treatment option for primary pain conditions, and it may be the preferred treatment for some patients. Research is needed on EAET with other pain conditions and samples, using better controls and comparison conditions, and on additional ways to motivate and help patients engage in successful emotional processing.