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Specific and general therapeutic mechanisms in cognitive behavioral treatment of chronic pain.

Burns JW, Nielson WR, Jensen MP, Heapy A, Czlapinski R, Kerns RD. Specific and general therapeutic mechanisms in cognitive behavioral treatment of chronic pain. Journal of consulting and clinical psychology. 2015 Feb 1; 83(1):1-11.

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OBJECTIVE: Many studies document efficacy of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for chronic pain, but few studies have examined potential treatment mechanisms. In analyses of data from a controlled trial, we examined whether changes in attitudes toward adopting a pain self-management approach-CBT-specific mechanisms-and quality of working alliance and patient expectations-general mechanisms-early in treatment were related to later-treatment changes in outcomes. METHOD: Our sample was composed of 94 adults (primarily White; mean age: 55.3 years, SD = 11.7; 23% female) who participated in enhanced or standard CBT, and completed measures of attitudes toward self-management (mechanisms), pain intensity, pain interference, depressive symptoms and goal accomplishment (outcomes) at pretreatment, 4- and 8-week assessments, and posttreatment. Working alliance was measured at 4 and 8 weeks, and patient expectations at 3 weeks. RESULTS: Because the CBT conditions produced comparable improvements, we combined them. Precontemplation and action attitudes toward pain self-management showed significant quadratic trends over assessments such that 67% and 94.1% (respectively) of total pre-post changes occurred in the first 4 weeks. Outcomes showed only significant linear trends. Cross-lagged regressions revealed that pretreatment-to-4-week changes in action attitudes and 4-week levels of working alliance were related significantly with 4-week-to-posttreatment changes in pain intensity and interference but not vice versa and that 3-week patient expectations were related to 4-week-to-posttreatment changes in interference. Analyses in which mechanism factors were entered simultaneously revealed nonsignificant unique effects on outcomes. CONCLUSIONS: Adopting an action attitude early in treatment may represent a specific CBT mechanism but with effects held largely in common with 2 general mechanisms.

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