Social Work Can Play a Critical Role in Pain Management

By Paul R. Pace

Social worker Jennifer Kljajic, LCSW, lost her brother to suicide when he was tapered off from opioids too quickly after taking them as prescribed for years due to a chronic pain condition in 2018. It was not until a year later that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services published guidelines that warned against fast tapering due to the risk of suicide.

Researching pain and pain management has helped Kljajic better understand what happened to her brother. She works to help others better manage their pain. The issue is paramount as the opioid epidemic continues to be a serious public health issue in the U.S. People are more likely to lose someone close to them due to opioids than from a car crash, Kljajic explains.

She leads the NASW Specialty Practice Sections webinar, Pain Assessment and Management: The Critical Role of Social Work, available at the Social Work Online CE Institute. Kljajic is director of coaching and therapy at Lucid Lane, a company that specializes in medication taper management and support. She emphasizes that social workers play a critical role in helping people manage their chronic pain, as well as those who may have developed an opioid misuse disorder.

Building trust and therapeutic rapport is essential when working with any client referred to mental health services, Kljajic says. It’s important to take a mindful approach to treatment since such people may offer resistance from the stigma they face having an “invisible” illness or being mislabeled an addict, she says.

Interventions, such as motivational interviewing, and techniques, like going with resistance and offering empathy, validation and reflection, are important. Always start where the client is, she suggests, and validate their feelings.

The DSM-V notes that pain disorders relate to psychological factors. “This is where a person presents symptoms of depression, anxiety or insomnia, but their primary problem is chronic pain,” Kljajic says.

Chronic pain can linger even when the initial illness has vanished.

“The pain signals remain active in the nervous system for weeks, months or years,” Kljajic says.

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