The Mediating Role of Acceptance in Multidisciplinary Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Chronic Pain

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APA Citation: 

Åkerblom, S., Perrin, S., Fischer, M. R., & McCracken, L. M. (2015). The mediating role of acceptance in multidisciplinary cognitive-behavioral therapy for chronic pain. The Journal of Pain, 16(7), 606-615.

Publication Topic: 
ACT: Empirical
Other Third-Wave Therapies: Empirical
Publication Type: 
Acceptance and commitment therapy, acceptance, cognitive-behavioral therapy, chronic pain, mediator, multilevel structural equation modeling

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most frequently delivered psychological intervention for adults with chronic pain. The treatment yields modest effect sizes, and the mechanisms of action remain understudied and unclear. Efforts are needed to identify treatment mediators that could be used to refine CBT and improve outcomes. The primary aim of this study was to investigate whether pain-related acceptance, from the psychological flexibility model, mediates changes in outcome over time in a CBT-based treatment program. This includes comparing how this variable relates to 3 other variables posited as potential mediators in standard CBT: life control, affective distress, and social support. Participants attended a 5-week outpatient multidisciplinary program with self-report data collected at assessment, posttreatment, and 12-month follow-up. Multilevel structural equation modeling was used to test for mediation in relation to 3 outcomes: pain interference, pain intensity, and depression. Results indicate that effect sizes for the treatment were within the ranges reported in the CBT for pain literature. Pain-related acceptance was not related to pain intensity, which is in line with past empirical evidence and the treatment objectives in acceptance and commitment therapy. Otherwise, pain-related acceptance was the strongest mediator across the different indices of outcome. Accumulated results like these suggest that acceptance of pain may be a general mechanism by which CBT-based treatments achieve improvements in functioning. More specific targeting of pain-related acceptance in treatment may lead to further improvements in outcome.

Highlights •Mediators of outcome in a cognitive-behavioral treatment (CBT)–based multidisciplinary pain program were investigated. •Contrary to the other mediators, pain-related acceptance was not targeted during treatment. •Still, pain-related acceptance had the strongest mediating effect. •It may be a key therapeutic process in CBT-based treatments for chronic pain. •Improved targeting of acceptance may increase the effectiveness of such treatments.
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