New Approaches for Treating Mental Health and Pain

March 8, 2020 Joe Brady

Spring Lectures To Discuss New Approaches for Treating Mental Health and Pain

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health will host three lectures this spring part of the Center’s Integrative Medicine Research Lecture Series on “Novel Approaches at the Intersection of Mental Health and Pain.” These new approaches for treating mental health and pain help patients get back to enjoying life again and gain a greater sense of well-being and that greatly enhances recovery. Watch the lectures yourself beginning March 24th.

Improving Recovery from “Diseases of Despair”.

Some of our most pressing “diseases of despair,” such as addiction, stress, and chronic pain, disrupt the brain’s capacity to experience pleasure and extract meaning from naturally rewarding events and experiences. Research suggests that mindfulness interventions like yoga, tai chi, and other forms of meditation teach one to feel good about the world again and begin to feel a greater sense of well-being cutting off at the root of these diseases of despair.

 On Tuesday, March 24, at 11 a.m. ET, Eric Garland, Ph.D., L.C.S.W.,  will kick off the series with “Mindfulness-Oriented Recovery Enhancement (MORE): Restructuring Reward Processing in Addiction, Stress, and Pain.” Dr. Garland is a Distinguished Endowed Chair in Research and associate dean for research at the University of Utah College of Social Work, and director of the University’s Center on Mindfulness and Integrative Health Intervention Development. He is also a psychotherapist, and a member of the Multi-Disciplinary Working Group of the NIH HEAL InitiativeSM, which partly funds his research. 

The events will be streamed live on NIH VideoCast and Facebook Live, (link is external)

Dr. Garland will describe his development and testing of an integrative treatment strategy that unites elements of mindfulness, cognitive behavioral therapy, and positive psychology. Evidence suggests the intervention, which is rooted in affective neuroscience, may enhance the value of the most basic natural rewards, also potentially opening a path toward greater well-being in life.   

Can technology help self-management of chronic pain?

Evidence supports behavioral and self-management interventions for people with chronic pain. However, implementation and use of those therapies on a widespread basis have lagged, for many reasons. Technology-based interventions offer a way to address some of these barriers and potentially improve pain-related outcomes. The second lecture will be by Alicia Heapy, Ph.D., associate professor of psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine; associate director of the Pain, Research, Informatics, Multimorbidies, and Education (PRIME) Center at the VA Connecticut Healthcare System; and chair of the National Pain Research Working Group, comprising more than 80 Veterans Health Administration, Department of Defense, NIH, and other pain investigators. Dr. Heapy will speak on “Cooperative Pain Education and Self-Management (COPES): A Technology-Assisted Intervention for Pain” on Monday, May 11, at 10 a.m. ET. 

Dr. Heapy will discuss research she is leading a new, technology-based form of cognitive behavioral therapy using interactive voice response. One of its advantages is that chronic pain patients can access it from home. 

How light influences our mental and physical health

Natural outdoor light and artificial indoor light can affect our mental and physical health. Dr. Burgess will examine how light reaches the brain and can alter brain centers that regulate circadian (body clock) timing, sleep and mood. “Lighting Up Our Lives: How Light Influences Our Mental and Physical Health,” by Helen Burgess, Ph.D., will be our third lecture, on Tuesday, June 30, at 11 a.m. ET. Natural outdoor light and artificial indoor light can affect our mental and physical health. Dr. Burgess will examine how light reaches the brain and can alter brain centers that regulate circadian (body clock) timing, sleep and mood. She’ll discuss specific properties of light such as intensity, wavelength, and timing, individual differences in light sensitivity. How morning light treatment can be used to improve health and reduce symptom burden in a variety of disorders-e.g., chronic pain conditions, depression, and posttraumatic stress disorder0-will also be addressed. Dr. Burgess is professor in the Department of Psychiatry and codirector of the Sleep and Circadian Research Laboratory at the University of Michigan. 

NCCIH is proud to showcase this exciting work by our grantees, reflecting several of our priority research areas such as nonpharmacologic management of pain; behavioral strategies to improve adherence to medical treatment of opioid use disorders; mental health; and health promotion and disease prevention. We hope you’ll join us. Find out more at