Skip to Main Content

Yale Child Study Center Launches Innovative, Research-based Pediatric Pain Program

May 31, 2019
by Lauren Perry

The Yale Child Study Center announced that it is joining 15 hospitals in the United States and Canada in offering The Comfort Ability program, an internationally-recognized program to help children and families learn how to manage chronic or recurring pain. 

“Too many children live their day-to-day lives in chronic or persistent pain,” said Dr. Lauren Fussner, pediatric psychologist in the Yale Medicine Child Study Center and site director of the new program. “Chronic pain can wreak havoc in the lives of children, interfering with school, sleep, friendships, and activities. Parents are also deeply affected; they may miss weeks of work caring for their child and struggle with feelings of helplessness. This program will be a powerful tool to help these families help themselves.”

Few people realize the true scope of chronic pain in pediatrics, now a 19.5 billion dollar healthcare industry. Conservative prevalence rates suggest that one in four children will have an episode of chronic pain, lasting three months or more, before reaching adulthood. This 25% of the pediatric population is largely comprised of kids and teens with musculoskeletal pain, chronic neuropathic pain, persistent post-surgical pain, headaches, and gastrointestinal pain.

The Comfort Ability is an interactive one-day program to help adolescents and their parents or caregivers learn how to better manage chronic pain. The Comfort Ability provides families with a foundation for understanding the various ways psychological interventions can improve pain management. It also provides adolescents and their families concrete skills necessary for improved emotional and physical functioning.

The group-based program provides pain education, teaching kids and parents how the nervous system works and why persistent pain can be such a challenging problem to overcome. Beyond education, the program is designed to arm families with a set of research-proven mind body and behavioral interventions that can reduce pain and improve day-to-day function.

“Parents and kids walk away understanding the physical and psychological complexity of pain, and importantly, with a core set of concrete skills they can immediately put to use,” said Rachael Coakley, PhD, Director of Clinical Innovation and Outreach at the Pain Treatment Service in the Department of Anesthesiology, Perioperative and Pain Medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital and the founder of The Comfort Ability program. “It’s critical for families to learn that the recovery from persistent pain takes a comprehensive approach; in other words, medications alone are seldom the answer.” 

More about Pediatric Pain Management

For many forms of chronic pain, pain itself is the disease process. In other words, pain does not necessarily represent a symptom of another problem; it can simply be the problem.

Chronic pain can be like a central nervous system glitch. To reset this glitch it’s necessary to address the physical and the psychological correlates of pain, such as stress, fear, anxiety, frustration, and depression. Psychologically-based interventions such as mindfulness, relaxation, biofeedback, and cognitive behavioral skills are research-proven to help children diminish pain intensity and reduce pain-related psychological distress. This is true regardless of what got the pain problem started in the first place.

Non-opioid medications, physical therapy, and cognitive behavioral therapy are a research-proven trifecta of interventions that currently comprise the gold standard of care for kids with chronic pain. This multidisciplinary approach to care has been practiced for more than two decades, but it’s still surprisingly difficult for families to get this type of comprehensive treatment. The Comfort Ability is one way parents are learning how to better approach the challenge of ongoing pain and to help their child to return to their full lives.

About The Comfort Ability

This program is designed to help children with chronic or recurrent pain and their parents learn strategies to better manage pain and improve day-to-day functioning. The Comfort Ability teaches how pain functions in the body and introduces cognitive behavioral and biobehavioral strategies for improved pain management. It’s designed for adolescents (ages 10-17) and their parents.

The next workshop takes place on Sunday 6/2 from 10 am – 5 pm at The Child Study Center located at 230 S. Frontage Road, New Haven CT. The workshop fee is $300 with scholarships available. The workshop fee includes a parent workbook, a teen workbook, an individual coping kit, light snacks, and refreshments. To learn more or register please email csc.comfortability@yale.edu or call 203-737-5892.

About Rachael Coakley, PhD

Rachael Coakley, Ph.D., is the Director of Clinical and Innovation and Outreach at the Pain Treatment Service, Department of Anesthesiology, Perioperative and Pain Medicine, Boston Children’s Hospital. She is also an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Coakley specializes in teaching children, adolescents and parents effective strategies to cope with pediatric chronic pain and pain-related stress using relaxation, mindfulness, and cognitive behavioral skills. She has published numerous articles and chapters on pediatric pain management and related topics and has presented at national and international conferences. Dr. Coakley’s book, “When Your Child Hurts: Effective Strategies to Increase Comfort, Reduce Stress and Break the Cycle of Chronic Pain” (Yale University Press), won a 2016 National Parenting Products Award (NAPPA).

Dr. Coakley founded The Comfort Ability program in 2011 and directs the implementation at Boston Children’s Hospital. For her work with The Comfort Ability program she was granted the 2016 David Weiner Award for Innovation in Child Health. The Comfort Ability program is made possible by the Sara Page Mayo Endowment for Pediatric Pain Research & Education and the Department of Anesthesiology & Perioperative Medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital.   

Submitted by Lauren Perry on May 31, 2019