This article provides an illustrative overview of neurophysiological changes related to acute and chronic pain involving structural and functional brain changes, which might be the targets of psychological interventions. A number of psychological pain treatments have been examined with respect to their effects on brain activity, ranging from cognitive- and operant behavioral interventions, meditation and hypnosis, to neuro- and biofeedback, discrimination training, imagery and mirror treatment, as well as virtual reality and placebo applications. These treatments affect both ascending and descending aspects of pain processing and act through brain mechanisms that involve sensorimotor areas as well as those involved in affective-motivational and cognitive-evaluative aspects. The analysis of neurophysiological changes related to effective psychological pain treatment can help to identify subgroups of patients with chronic pain who might profit from different interventions, can aid in predicting treatment outcome, and can assist in identifying responders and nonresponders, thus enhancing the efficacy and efficiency of psychological interventions. Moreover, new treatment targets can be developed and tested. Finally, the use of neurophysiological measures can also aid in motivating patients to participate in psychological interventions and can increase their acceptance in clinical practice.
Am Psychol. 2014 Feb-Mar;69(2):188-96. doi: 10.1037/a0035254. Flor H. Author information: Central Institute of Mental Health.