At Karuna Labs, we are pioneering a new approach to managing chronic pain in the face of increasing opioid dependence/addiction and expensive and invasive surgical treatment.

We have combined proven biopsychosocial treatments and moved them into the virtual environment where we’re seeing more effective plans of care thanks to improved range of motion and adherence.

Joining us on our mission to improve the quality of life for patients who have persistent pain is renowned pain psychologist, Jennifer L. Murphy, PhD., an expert in developing and implementing nonpharmacological treatments for chronic pain across healthcare systems. She is also the lead author of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Chronic Pain (CBT-CP) manual. As a CBT-CP subject matter expert, Dr. Murphy serves as an investigator on numerous clinical trials examining nonpharmacological pain treatments and their impact on outcomes. 

Today, I’m excited to share Dr. Murphy’s insights into her work with Karuna Labs as our Chief Behavioral Health Officer, as well as her thoughts on healthcare’s biggest challenges.

  • Chronic pain affects approximately 10 percent of Americans. In your opinion, why are so many of us suffering? 

That is a complicated question since the chronic pain experience is highly complex. One of the biggest reasons for the prevalence of persistent pain in this country is a lack of understanding about what it is and how we can best treat it. Too often, it is approached as a short-term problem with a focus on a cure, which is unlikely. Unfortunately, this leads to an overreliance on medications and procedures without considering other key elements that contribute to the experience of pain and can also help in its treatment. Those individuals with pain who have been left feeling frustrated or hopeless can be empowered once they are given the tools to reduce pain-related suffering.

  • What is the biggest challenge in treating chronic pain? 

Chronic pain is like many other chronic medical conditions that we see growing each day – optimal outcomes require a combination of management from healthcare professionals along with the implementation of behavioral choices and lifestyle changes for the person with pain. This can be a challenge – especially when you are hurting! Shifting pain-related understanding and expectations often takes time but is essential. Using the goals and motivations of each individual is the best place to start when developing a pain care plan that works.  

  • What about being a part of our mission most excites you? 

The opportunity to use virtual technology as a direct means to promote education and engagement in helpful behaviors is thrilling. We know that increasing behavioral activation, using strategies that calm the nervous system, and reframing expectations are powerful tools in maximizing pain management; however, if individuals do not implement these approaches then their prognosis suffers. Karuna’s VR platform offers an enticing way to communicate to people with pain and make their rehabilitation program a success. I believe these technologies are a  key for making evidence-based options scalable and accessible for all.

  • Can you explain the biopsychosocial approach to chronic pain?

The biopsychosocial model for chronic pain was introduced over four decades ago and is the most useful approach for pain assessment and treatment. Most simply, it is the understanding that pain impacts and is impacted by many factors – physiological, emotional, environmental, behavioral, and more. There is a dynamic across these pieces which can serve to amplify or dampen the pain process and which accounts for much of the variability experienced across pain conditions. Using a biopsychosocial lens for treatment is imperative as chronic pain is not a solely biological event but an interactive process and must be understood as such.

  • What vision do you have for the use of our Virtual Embodiment TrainingTM?

I see Virtual Embodiment TrainingTM as a means to help individuals better understand the many elements of the pain care experience and be with them throughout their pain journey. Engaging in treatment, especially approaches that require effort and can even increase discomfort in the short-term, is a lot to ask. By offering VET, individuals have something concrete that they can use to guide them and feel supported in their efforts.

  • What headway do you expect healthcare to make on treating chronic pain in the next decade? 

While the opioid epidemic led to many adverse consequences, it has also increased interest in nonpharmacological approaches to pain and creative thinking around solutions. As a result, there has been a needed shift in our healthcare system to acknowledge pain as the complex phenomenon it is – one that emphasizes multidisciplinary, team-based care and arms the person with pain with tools to better manage the effects of pain. In addition, there is exciting research underway that will help us better understand pain processes and treatment approaches which will improve outcomes in the years to come. 

We’re thrilled to welcome Dr. Murphy to the team. Karuna Labs currently has several clinical trials underway across the country, and we believe there will soon be access to pain management treatments with long-term, sustainable relief, rather than invasive or potentially addictive options that often work only in the short-term.