J. Bruce Hillenberg, PhD ABPP
Director of Psychology, Pain Medicine
Beaumont Health System
What is your area of specialty?
Spinal neuropharmacology of pain and analgesia with emphasis on inter-analgesic synergy.
What has been a highlight of your work? Perhaps you and your staff are proud of a certain project or accomplishment.
I am a board-certified clinical health psychologist. My primary interest lies in helping patients with chronic pain live meaningful and active lives. I am intrigued with the process by which patients find courage to seek acceptance, reduce disability, and take responsibility for their quality of life. I am interested in the psychological, family, cultural, and contextual factors that play a critical role in the variation of coping skills and functioning seen among patients with chronic pain. My work has focused on translating research and theoretical models of pain management into clinical practice and working with multidisciplinary colleagues to develop evidence-based biopsychosocial interventions within integrated medical settings.
What initially sparked your interest in working in your field? Briefly describe your career path.
My introduction to the field of pain management began in 1974 when, at 24 years of age, I had a lumbar spinal fusion for chronic pain that began 2 years earlier after a work site accident. I remained with a degree of post-surgical pain thereafter, which began my personal journey to find acceptance of this new reality and lead me to reinvent my career direction and hobbies. I discovered ways to strengthen my body and keep myself emotionally grounded and learned how to calm the fears that life would now be different. What followed was a personal journey to learn as much as I could about pain and coping, attempt to understand how individuals with chronic health conditions find purpose and meaning, and explore their career directions on this pathway. My personal journey with pain was additionally honed by a second lumbar spinal fusion when I was 36 years old.
Within this context, I found my way to the doorstep of the developing field of clinical health psychology. I completed my PhD in clinical psychology in 1984 with an emphasis on health and behavioral medicine at West Virginia University. During my practicum and internship experience, I gained an increased interest in the field of pain management. I had astute and caring mentors—Frank L. Collins, Richard Seime, Jerry C. Parker, and Robert Frank—who helped me integrate my personal experience with both clinical and empirical knowledge so that I could assist patients in the process of being survivors in managing pain.
I chose a career path that emphasized clinical practice and program development. My identity in working in pain management expanded during my professional work at the Harry S. Truman Memorial Hospital and the Rusk Rehabilitation Institute on the campus of the University of Missouri-Columbia. I then moved back to Michigan and worked in the Henry Ford Health System prior to beginning my career with the Beaumont Health System. I have been active in providing clinical pain management services to a range of patients and their significant others. My work also includes extensive involvement with pain medicine physicians, mid-level providers, nurses, and physical therapists to develop an integrated pain management network throughout the Beaumont Health System.
What has been a highlight of your work? Perhaps you and your staff are proud of a certain project or accomplishment?
Over the past 2 years, I have worked with a strategic-planning team within the Beaumont Health System with the goal of creating an integrated process of multidisciplinary care for pain problems throughout the continuum of care. My colleagues have included Sean Conroy, Gloria Mann, David Monan, LuAnn Cathers, and Cain Dimon. As the team has been transformed into a system-wide Pain Integration Council, additional team members from inpatient/outpatient care and multiple medical specialties have joined the Council.
Our team has used the criteria established for the Centers of Excellence award to guide our process, which has included creating subcommittees covering different medical/pain treatment issues in the health system, conducting needs assessment for integrated care, identifying strengths and specific areas for improvement in pain management, as well as expanding pain management education resources. Our goal is to establish an evidence-based standard of care for pain medicine throughout the health system—across the age range, and including acute, post-surgical, cancer-related, and chronic pain. Our team is enthusiastic and excited about the far-reaching opportunities to provide quality pain care to our patients.
Is there a particular challenge that you've either overcome or hope to address soon?
There is significant variation among patients with chronic pain in their perception of why a psychologist plays an important role in a team approach to pain management. Some patients welcome this with open arms, while others are hesitant and worry that their pain physician has asked them to see a psychologist because the validity of their pain is being questioned. I have been intrigued and challenged over the years with my work in pain management to find effective strategies for engaging with patients, allaying their fears of what it means to be working with a psychologist on pain-related problems, and enlisting their commitment to improve their psychological flexibility and well being. Seeing patients work through the grief process towards acceptance of pain, renewing personal investment in valued activities, discovering mindfulness and empowerment, and reaching an improved quality of life, has reinforced my commitment to find unique ways of engaging each patient in this journey.
Featured in the January 2013 Issue of E-News