Gary 'Smiler' Turner's Blog

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Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Pain Management – Hypnotherapy

This carries on from my last two posts on pain, and here I will give a ‘general’ approach I often use when working with clients who have pain. Please note that every client is an individual, and as such, deserves an individual approach relevant to them. This is just a general approach I may utilise.

Hypnosis and the management of pain have a long documented history and hypnosis is commonly used as an analgesic and an anaesthetic during operations – and has been for centuries. Yet this is just one aspect where hypnosis (and other tools that a hypnotherapist has) can be used to work with pain.

Of course, the first thing in respect to working with pain is to ensure the client has appropriate medical attention. The last thing you want to do is remove a person’s migraine pain is if the pain is actually a signal from a growing tumour! It doesn’t matter whether it is knee pain, migraines, joint pain, back pain – I want to know what I am working with, and ensure that my client is actually getting the right medical attention where necessary. I know I am not a medical doctor – I know my limitations.

I also get a list of any drugs, painkillers, or any other treatments they have been having, together with a history of the pain. I want to know whether the drugs are preventing the process of nociception (the pain signal from tissue damage or risk of tissue damage), or are working inside the neurology of the brain, or even whether they aren’t working at all. The history will give me a great starting place too and let me know the origins of the pain.

If it is ethical and morally right to continue, and the client is happy with the process, I then start work on the emotional and learned behaviours behind the pain. Examples of these I am often presented with include:

“I’ve had a rear end shunt so I must have whiplash.”
“I pulled my back bending down and now every time I bend down I get a pain.”
“I only get my knee pain on the way to training.”
“My migraines started around the time of a severe emotional trauma.”
“Even though the doctors say nothing’s wrong, it still hurts.”

All these are clear examples to me of psychosomatic pain. The first task I undertake is to educate my client to what pain is, and that by paying attention to the signals of pain then there is no need to feel the pain. I also explain the origins of pain. Often, this is all it takes. It seems this is quite usual with sportspersons who train hard or are competitive. They tend to have ‘niggly’ pains on the way to training but at no other times. Educating them about pain often removes the problem immediately.

Actually, according to people like Dr Sarno, a medical doctor who is a leading pain specialist, if an injury is not getting worse and is not being aggravated and the pain has persisted for more than 6 weeks then it exists at the psychosomatic level only. And he includes amputees in this category too.

If the pain persists following education I then look for learned behaviours or unresolved/repressed emotions behind the pain. I often use hypnosis for this although often the client can present the signal behind the pain immediately – pain is a great inducer of hypnosis! I use all the tools in my hypnotherapy kit as appropriate to reframe the learned behaviour or resolve the emotions – I work with the client to pay attention to the signal.

With recent clients this has immediately removed or reduced pains from backs, shoulders, necks and knees. More than that, with pain just being one form of psychosomatic signals, this afternoon I worked with a stop smoking client who also has severe psoriasis. Interestingly as I was paying attention to the emotions driving him to smoke, the psoriasis started to considerably improve. Whether the psoriasis has psychosomatic origins here or not is not really important – what is important is the clear and tangible change for the better has taken place and exactly at the time of dealing with an unresolved emotion.

Of course, not all pain is psychosomatic, from learned behaviour or unresolved emotions. Some pain is obviously from tissue damage. Two of my recent clients have had pain almost across their entire bodies. Their consultants haven’t known what pain to attend to medically – there was so much of it. So together we are working first on the emotional pain, then the learned behaviours – so all that should be left is pain from actual damage to tissue, giving the medical consultants clearer signals to work with.

Once the medical practitioners are paying attention to these signals of damage, I can then work with my clients to turn down the pain. This pain is an important signal, and one that needs to be paid attention to. However, where it is interfering with a person’s recovery from that injury, such as prohibiting good sleep, then it is appropriate to turn it right down – or even off for certain parts of the day. As all pain is a perception within the mind, and again let me assure you that all pain is very real, I find that hypnosis is a great tool with which to do this.

Some damage to tissue is also untreatable. Think about certain long term conditions here, degenerative orders, or worse. Here whatever the signal there is no attention that can be paid to the source of the signal. Hypnosis is well documented in assisting these persons have a much more comfortable time.

I have had some good experimentation with control of pain (switching on and off), and regulation of pain (extent of the perception of pain) with my fighting friends. Last year on the Combined Services Judo Course I would often get a shout of “Gary, another one!” from the coaches. Often a twisted knee, impact trauma or the like was the source of pain. I’ve also carried out similar experimentation with my fight training partners.

This experimentation has often centred on their ‘perception’ of the pain – after, of course, I check that they will be paying attention to the signal. I ask them to visualise the pain. What does it look like? How big is it? What colour? Is it moving? And as they visualise it and experience it, I get them to change their experience by shrinking it, moving it away, fading it out, ‘sucking it out’ of the body. This is a surprisingly quick way of regulating, and often controlling, pain. Give it a go – after you make sure you’ll be paying attention to the signal that is!

So there we go – a three post journey through pain. So that’s a few thoughts, a few bits of my study, and a few thoughts all thrown into the mix. I wonder how many of you who read these three posts find that just by understanding pain a little better, your own pain becomes easier to manage?

As always, I welcome all feedback – please feel free to add comments!

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