How 3 Simple Words Can Change a Life: I Believe You

At any given time, in the United States, about one third of the entire population is in pain. Half of all people sixty-five and older suffer from chronic pain. Untold numbers are caring for those who are in pain.  While no one can escape pain’s effects it strikes me how unwilling we are as a society to believe and understand the struggles of those suffering from this invisible epidemic.

Shortly after opening my pain clinic, I met a patient who changed my understanding of pain stigma forever. This middle-aged woman sat on the end of the examining table as I asked, “What can I do to help you?” I watched a light of hope flickered in her eyes – for the first time, someone wasn’t rejecting or putting her off.

She proceeded to tell me a long tale that would soon become a template for my patient’s stories – of developing severe chronic pain, of being passed around by doctors, of being ignored or misunderstood by her friends and family. Despite her efforts, the pain went on.

At the end, I simply told her, “I believe you.”

She burst into tears.

When it comes to pain complaints, many people find that their friends and sometimes their physicians doubt them. It’s all in their head, people conclude. They’re exaggerating. They’re seeking attention. They’re seeking drugs. Maybe it’s depression. Can’t they just move past it? So for me to say “I believe you” signaled to this woman that someone was taking her and her pain seriously.

Individuals facing chronic pain are often made to feel isolated, their very real pain ignored, and having someone listen to and validate them is often what they need most. It is a hope for relief.

Anyone, not just a doctor, who knows and cares about someone in pain can be the person to minister an inner sense of healing, merely by trying to understand what’s happening and being there with compassion and reassurance. Furthermore, anyone who is in pain should look for, and I would say expect, this kind of care and connectedness from those closest to him or her.

Humankind is a social species. We live and thrive in community. When ill, we look to our community for physical and emotional restitution.

These are three simple words that deliver powerful results: I believe you. Pure magic.

Adapted from my forthcoming book “The Painful Truth,” to be released in September 2015.


  1. kristine on June 15, 2015 at 8:24 am

    I wish more doctors and others felt this way and would make more effort to understand chronic pain, and be more compassionate instead of judgmental. Pain isnt always visible. Thank u for this article.

  2. Ali Wilson on June 28, 2015 at 3:36 pm

    Absolutely correct. Every word.

  3. Elizabeth Munro on August 11, 2015 at 12:06 am

    I had a pain doctor tell me before he even looked at my X-rays that I wasn’t in any more pain than he is, and that my problems were psychological because I’m a woman. He had JUST met me and knew NOTHING about my case. He was a Horrible doctor. It was so frustrating and dismissive.

  4. Emily Ullrich on August 11, 2015 at 12:19 am

    Dr. Webster, thank you for this article, and for being one of the few physicians who understand how precious those words are to chronic pain patients. ALL of us at one time or another have been burned by doctors and healthcare workers, who see us as addicts, drug seekers, malingerers. Knowing that the person in charge of your care simply BELIEVES what you’re saying (a part of the doctor-patient relationship that most people take for granted) is a revelation for us.

  5. Deyvaen on August 12, 2015 at 12:01 am

    I cannot tell you how much those three little words mean to a chronic pain patient, most especially from a doctor! My friends and family still don’t believe me or don’t want to believe me. Unfortunately, the last time I had a doctor that believed me was in 2012 and since he retired my life has been a nightmare :'(

    I’d give anything to find a good, caring doctor that would actually look at my blood work, x-rays, PT report and records and then believe me and actually help me!! Thank-you so much for restoring some hope in humanity that doctors like you still exist, somewhere. Maybe someday soon I’ll find one too 🙂

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