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Chronic pain treatment
The mind-body approach to treatment of chronic pain was pioneered by US rehabilitation physician Dr John Sarno. This is an effective, evidence based way to become free of many forms of chronic illness including:
- Many forms of lower back pain, including some where a structural diagnosis has been made (e.g. herniated disc, curvature of the spine)
- Many other kinds of chronic pain which may have been diagnosed as rotator cuff strain/tear, chronic tendonitis, regional pain syndrome, migraine, neck pain, knee pain, or piriformis syndrome
- Repetitive Strain Injury / Occupational Overuse Syndrome
- Some forms of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS)
- Some forms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
If you are interested in reading more about the science which supports the effectiveness of this approach please take a look at the evidence based chronic pain treatment page.
The following video is a news clip from a US current affairs program “20/20” from their ABC news network. It shows a few people with chronic back pain recovering after following Sarno’s treatment program. Note that the approach is relevant to a large number of chronic pain conditions (see list above) not just back pain.
Please note that this is unfortunately not a suitable treatment if you have a conclusive diagnosis of:
- Nerve injury with clear medical evidence
It is my great pleasure to offer this service having learnt the nuances of the approach first hand whilst curing my own 4 year chronic pain / fatigue syndrome.
How I recovered from 4 years of chronic pain / fatigue
In my own experience, I was on the diagnostic borderline between fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS), CFS and regional pain syndrome as I experienced multiple pain sites (e.g. starting in my wrists, then moving to my achilles tendons, feet, knees, thighs, lower back, shoulders and neck) as well as sleep disturbance and chronic fatigue.
If you have been suffering from chronic pain and/or fatigue for some time you, like me, have probably consulted some or all of the following disciplines looking for an effective treatment:
- medical specialists (e.g. rheumatologists)
- massage therapists
- alternative practitioners, e.g. kinesiologists, Alexander technique etc
In my experience, some helped a bit, some made it worse, and some didn’t help at all. I found that rest was really the only thing that gave me significant relief… but when you want to get on with your life, needing to constantly rest to settle down the pain and inflammation is not a curative chronic pain treatment.
For those who are interested I have started writing a full account of my descent into and back out of chronic pain. (I’m also happy to talk to you about it in person). If you have chronic pain you are probably most interested in how I recovered so the short version of my recovery follows:
After one particularly memorable consultation with a holistically oriented general practitioner in Warranwood I walked out of the consulting room feeling that even though he hadn’t been able to diagnose me with anything definative, I had been thoroughly heard. I had really been listened to.
As I walked back into the waiting room to pay for the consult an intuition hit me like a veritable bolt of lightning. I have no idea where it came from, but to this day I can remember the intensity and clarity of this sense of knowing. It (i.e. my intuition) said simply “understand your relationship to fear and anger”.
At that stage of my life my intuition didn’t speak to me very much, at least not in that “lightning-bolt out of the blue that you cant possibly ignore” kind of way. So it was a very significant event and I felt a quiet sense of hope. I now had a clear direction to pursue my healing.
Understanding the mind-body approach
As soon as I could get in front of a computer I started searching for connections between emotions and pain syndromes. I found the work of US rehabilitation specialist Dr John Sarno and ordered his book “The Mind-Body Prescription” from Amazon as it was impossible to get in Melbourne at that time.
As soon as it arrived I devoured the book. His theory was that stress and unconscious emotions lie at the root of chronic pain and fatigue…this dovetailed remarkably with what my intuition told me. His alternative diagnostic suggestion “Tension Myositis Syndrome” or TMS matched very well with my symptoms and with my tendency to be a perfectionist and a “goodist” – Sarno’s term for someone for whom doing good is important. He observes that these traits are often present in people with chronic pain and working with them is an important part of making a full recovery.
I started to get better quickly at this point, after realising that the pain is not from physical damage from overuse as I had always believed. Rather, Sarno suggests the pain is a response mediated by the Autonomic Nervous System as part of a whole-mind-body attempt to manage the stuff that was below the surface of consciousness.
From here on, a virtuous cycle ensued in which less fear of the pain led to less pain, increasing my confidence in the mind-body approach, which in turn led to less fear of the pain that remained. I had to work consistently at identifying and letting myself feel the emotions which were blocked but given the physical relief which ensued as a result (i.e. reduced pain) I experienced this as an exciting journey of discovery rather than a scary process.
Initially I tried Re-evaluation Counselling to help me understand my emotional self better, which was a great start. But later on I found that somatic / body based approaches to psychotherapy (in particular Radix Body Centered Psychotherapy) helped me to access the unconscious stuff more deeply and safely. As a major, major bonus I found that the more I did this style of work on myself my general level of wellbeing picked up immensely and other symptoms of depression / anxiety I had considered normal for years started to drop off also.
The rest, as they say, is history. These days I consider myself thoroughly cured. I still get the occasional twinge of pain which goes away rapidly when I apply my now well practiced mind-body approach to eliminating any symptoms. And when I am typing frantically to get something finished, or playing the drums loudly, or digging in the garden without pain, I often experience a sense of amazement and disbelief at how much my life has changed.
As well as Dr Sarno and the various people who helped me along the way, perhaps I should also give my intuition some of the credit as it was in fact this mysterious faculty of the self that pointed me in the right direction. Anyway, after spending periods of months in despair that I would be in pain for the rest of my life I feel extremely grateful to have my health back. I also have a much deeper understanding of myself and the reality of the mind-body connection.
How can I help
Having a chronic pain syndrome was a major life change for me. Since then I have completed a psychology degree studied a range of mind-body psychotherapy approaches in order to pursue my passion for helping other people who are suffering with chronic illness or lack of wellbeing.
I am now practicing in Melbourne, Australia (but phone/skype sessions are also doable by arrangement) and offer the following services in the realm of mind-body healing / wellness:
- assistance with understanding your pain syndrome and working with your doctor (you should always rule out other serious illnesses with a good doctor before treating your pain as solely a mind-body process)
- somatic / body oriented psychotherapy to help you get to the root of what is creating the pain syndrome
- assistance applying the mind-body approach to your unique life circumstances
If you would like my current fee schedule or to speak to me about any of the above, please contact me here. You may also be interested in the following short video I made explaining a bit more about how body psychotherapy can create lasting change.
Recommended reading and other resources:
Sarno, John. “The Mind-Body Prescription” Warner Books 1999.
“The Divided Mind (1-5) Fibromyalgia Pain Treatment – The Epidemic of Mindbody Disorders”- Audio Interview with Dr John Sarno http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N5rg39kz8bM
Researchers or other interested people may want to read some of the peer reviewed scientific research on this approach.
"Since I've started seeing Hal, I've quit drinking and smoking, gone off my antidepressants, stopped feeling shy, dramatically improved my relationships with my partner and with my mother, and largely gotten over my RSI issues.
Its been a transformational few months. I have to give credit to myself and to a course that I'm doing at the moment as well, but seeing Hal has really helped me get in touch with my emotions and given me the capacity to deal with life, rather than avoiding ... >>read more >>
"Seeing Hal changed my life. After 4 years of strong chronic pain I now experience minimal pain and have no restrictions in doing all the activities I love in life. Here is my story.
I initially developed RSI type pain in my wrists from typing and computer use while writing up my PhD. It manifested as strong pain right through both my wrists whenever I typed or used my wrists for normal activities. It eventually got so bad ... >>read more >>