Shifting the perspective: how positive thinking can help diminish the negative effects of pain

Jantine J L M Boselie*, Madelon L Peters

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


OBJECTIVES: The field of pain psychology has taken significant steps forward during the last decades and the way we think about how to treat chronic pain has radically shifted from a biomedical perspective to a biopsychosocial model. This change in perspective has led to a surge of accumulating research showing the importance of psychological factors as determinants for debilitating pain. Vulnerability factors, such as pain-related fear, pain catastrophizing and escape/avoidant behaviours may increase the risk of disability. As a result, psychological treatment that has emerged from this line of thinking has mainly focused on preventing and decreasing the adverse impact of chronic pain by reducing these negative vulnerability factors. Recently, another shift in thinking has emerged due to the field of positive psychology, which aims to have a more complete and balanced scientific understanding of the human experience, by abandoning the exclusive focus on vulnerability factors towards including protective factors.

METHODS: The authors have summarised and reflected on the current state-of-the-art of pain psychology from a positive psychology perspective.

RESULTS: Optimism is an important factor that may in fact buffer and protect against pain chronicity and disability. Resulting treatment approaches from a positive psychology perspective are aimed at increasing protective factors, such as optimism, to increase resilience towards the negative effects of pain.

CONCLUSIONS: We propose that the way forward in pain research and treatment is the inclusion of both vulnerability and protective factors. Both have unique roles in modulating the experience of pain, a finding that had been neglected for too long. Positive thinking and pursuing valued goals can make one's life gratifying and fulfilling, despite experiencing chronic pain.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)452-463
Number of pages12
Issue number3
Early online date20 Feb 2023
Publication statusPublished - 21 Jul 2023


  • (chronic) pain
  • biopsychosocial model
  • optimism
  • positive affect
  • positive psychology
  • protective factor


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