Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Date of Award

January 2012

Degree Type


Degree Name




First Advisor

Annmarie Cano


Chronic pain is a costly health condition that is estimated to affect 150 million Americans. Numerous studies have shown that chronic pain affects a variety of aspects of life including mood, daily activities, and relationships. Not only does the individual with chronic pain suffer, spouses often do as well. The purpose of this study was to develop and test an intervention that utilized motivational interviewing techniques while providing tailored feedback to couples who are affected by chronic pain. This study examined which changes arose following the intervention and explored potential reasons for why these changes occurred.

Participants consisted of 47 couples in which at least one member had a chronic pain condition. Each couple completed questionnaires, participated in an interview about the history of their relationship and pain, and engaged in an interaction about coping with pain. Then the couples were randomly assigned to either the intervention group or control group. The couples in the intervention group received oral and written feedback, utilizing motivational interviewing techniques, regarding strengths and weaknesses of their relationship and pain coping. The couples in the control group received oral and written educational feedback about the Gate Control Theory.

The motivational interviewing intervention in this study provided several benefits for couples facing chronic pain. Specifically, the intervention produced greater marital satisfaction, lower pain ratings, greater positive mood, and lower negative mood for both patients and spouses in the intervention group compared to those in the control group. In addition, there were benefits on some of the secondary outcome variables. The patients in the intervention group had lower personal distress than the controls following the intervention and the spouses had greater empathy and mindfulness. This study also found that some of the changes in secondary variables were associated with changes in the primary variables, suggesting that these could be mechanisms of change within the intervention.

This study is a promising step to enhancing current treatments for couples facing chronic pain as well as other chronic illnesses. By including aspects of this intervention in future treatments, it is possible that existing treatments can become more effective.

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Psychology Commons