How Does Psychology Treat Suffering?

You don't have to experience suffering to experience happiness. The strategies you use to face sufffering don't make you happy either. However, they allow you to discover your inner strengths and improve your resilience.
How Does Psychology Treat Suffering?
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 15 November, 2021

How is suffering treated? What strategies does psychological therapy resort to for this common occurrence? As a matter of fact, there are many techniques, resources, and approaches to treat this kind of psychological pain. However, they aren’t always easy to carry out and not all formulas work for all people.

Sigmund Freud said that suffering is simply a part of being human that we all have to put up with. The field of behaviorism didn’t pay much attention to it either. In fact, it considered it more than an internal experience and, consequently, not approachable from a scientific perspective. However, thanks to Viktor Frankl, this perspective changed. His devastating experiences in the Nazi concentration camps led to a broader and deeper perspective on the subject.

Suffering isn’t shapeless. It has roots and we’re all susceptible to experiencing it. Nobody is immune to pain. We all have the resources to manage it and get through it. In fact, it makes us come out stronger, wiser, and even a little more prepared to face life and its problems.

“Between stimulus and response there’s a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

 -Viktor Frankl-

A sad woman.

Treating suffering and understanding that pain is natural

How suffering is treated depends to a large extent on where it originates from. However, one thing that’s certain is that, in the field of clinical psychology, the final goal of all therapy is to relieve suffering. In addition, to empower the patient to manage it more effectively.

This tends to suggest that psychological therapy is something of a moral undertaking. That it goes beyond science, objective data, structured techniques, and research.

This proposal views psychological therapy as a way of calming, conquering fears, and going beyond the methodology to reach the sensitive and wounded part of the patient. Hence, allowing them to heal. Let’s take a look at some of the areas psychological therapy works in when addressing psychological pain.

Accepting and understanding suffering

A story tells how a woman, devastated by the death of her son, decided to take his body to Buddha. She hoped he’d be able to ease her grief and revive her child. Buddha said he’d fulfill her wish on one condition, that she collect mustard seeds from all the families in her village who’d never known any suffering.

The woman went from house to house but not one person gave her a mustard seed, as they’d all experienced suffering. It was then that she understood that she had no choice but to accept reality and the pain this involved.

Treating suffering in psychological therapy first involves making the person realize that pain is part of life. They need to pin it down, know where it comes from, and understand that there are strategies to manage it. However, there are no resources to erase it or to go back in time.

A man suffering from sadness.

Controlling the thoughts that fuel pain

Suffering, whether it’s psychological or physical, is due to the result of a physical, organic, mental, or emotional imbalance. In fact, it might not always have a clear origin. However, one aspect is evident: the way a person thinks. A person’s mental approach can either intensify or relieve their suffering.

Athletes know this, as they’re often forced to perform while they’re in pain. However, with proper psychological preparation, they’re able to face that match, test, or race with greater confidence and strength.

Something that psychological therapy makes clear is that thoughts can intensify suffering. Disorders like anxiety and depression are clearly fueled by catastrophic thoughts that involve emotions like guilt, anger, sadness, and despair, which exponentially increase pain.

A woman's legs walking.

Changing internal dialogue

The process of recovering from suffering involves, firstly, recognizing that the process will take time. This is because it involves a meticulous procedure of internal reconstruction. Indeed, sufferers often have to develop a narrative that they can incorporate into their life story without it weighing them down.

This means that they need to change their inner dialogue. Furthermore, to employ facilitating techniques such as those from acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). They must reduce their hopeless thoughts, stop feeling guilty, channel their anxiety, and let their anger flow properly. In addition, to need to try to embrace their sadness. This way, they’ll gradually be able to accept it and step out into the world again.

There’s no one formula to treat suffering.  In fact, there’s nothing more universal in humans than pain in all its different forms. Therefore, if you’re suffering, you must always remember that you’ll be able to face it, survive it, and subsequently come out stronger. For this reason, don’t hesitate to ask for professional help if you need it.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.