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Treating Chronic Pain

Recently I saw a client experiencing chronic back pain. (There's three, in fact, but I'm concentrating on just this one.) Actually this wasn't why he'd come to see me, but it seemed to us both that having this pain was draining his ability to work on the thing he'd actually come for help with.

So we did some work on it. Remarkably his pain was greatly reduced by the third time I saw him. I don't know how much this was to do with what we did, because he was doing more of the kind of exercise that was good for his back muscles, and he was getting treatment for it also. And perhaps all these things are connected. If you're feeling more motivated to act - and that's one of the things I'd say Hypnotherapy is particularly helpful for - then the action you take can help you, and you get a reward in the form of reduced pain, which encourages you to do more. Or maybe what we did actually directly did reduce his pain. Dunno. What I do know is that he's now feeling a whole lot better, and work's going well too. If you do three things and together they work, I'd suggest at least for the time being, keep doing them!

Maybe you'd like to know what it was we did?

Before I tell you, though, there's four things that it's helpful to know and one strong recommendation, which I'll deliver first: get it treated. Get the best people. If you think your specialist isn't listening or is an idiot, go back to your GP and ask for a fresh referral. Ask your specialist how much experience she has in your particular issue. There are good lawyers and bad, good builders and bad and there are good specialists and bad. I once saw a specialist four times who still wasn't sure what I had. A fresh referral from my GP and the new specialist diagnosed me, and accurately, within the first minute.

Back to those four things it's helpful to know about chronic pain. The first is that people experience pain in very individual ways, because.... well, because people are very individual. We have different tolerance levels for pain, and while some of this difference is likely to be physiological (just as some people can cope with being hungry and thirsty more easily than others), it's also likely that past experience can be a factor. If you've a lifelong history of chronic pain, you're going to be bringing something different to your current experience than someone who's never been ill in their life. Don't let anyone tell you you 'shouldn't' be feeling this much pain, perhaps implying that you're making too much of a fuss. Opioids for back pain, for instance, as prescribed less for black people than for white, and women in pain wait longer in emergency departments and are less likely to be given effective painkillers than men. So someone not believing you may say more about them than it does about your pain.

No reputable Hypnotherapist would work with you on your chronic pain without confirming that you'd had it fully investigated by a specialist.

Secondly, how we experience pain depends a good deal on the context. Having an arm twisted hurts like hell - but it hurts a lot less if the person doing the twisting is an expert, manipulating the arm to help fix it; and it hurts a lot more if the person doing the twisting is holding a knife, demanding all your money. Meaning, in other words, matters. People being persecuted for their religious or political beliefs are able to take extraordinary amounts of pain, something without giving in to their torturers' demands, precisely because of the strength of their convictions. The opposite is true, too. There's some evidence, for instance, that painkillers delivered by a nurse or carer, or by the patient herself, are more effective than ones delivered automatically by a machine. Just think of a mum kissing a child's bumped knee - the best medicine ever!

Thirdly, we don't experience chronic pain the same at all times. If an angry and hungry tiger were to leap into your room right now, you might find yourself in a few seconds somewhere else entirely, having found an ability to move that you did not know you still possessed. When we're preoccupied, deeply engrossed in something, we can find that to a greater or lesser degree our sensations are blocked.

Fourthly, lack of control or agency is distressing by itself. One of the reasons pain is painful is that it is something that we are suffering, that is happening to us, that we cannot control. Indeed, loss of liberty is a common punishment for crime around the world.

So that's four things that someone with chronic pain might want to be aware of. Taken together, they add up to a counter-intuitive conclusion: how you experience pain and the degree of pain you experience is not fixed. That's important, because if it is fixed, then there's no role for Hypnotherapy. If it is not fixed, it can be altered. If it can be altered, it can be improved.

(We interrupt this little blog to say this: chronic pain is dreadful. It's debilitating, and really, really hurts. It's not 'all in the head,' and it's nothing to do with 'just pull yourself together' or any nonsense like that. Further, no-one else knows what you're going through - see my first point. It's worth stating this, just in case anything that I'm saying here seems to suggest otherwise.)

So here's one way to help chronic pain. Or rather two ways, because understanding all the above is necessary first, and may even by itself be helpful. Ask someone with chronic pain whether they experience it all the time, and typically the answer will be 'yes, 24/7.' And they may also say that they experience the same level of pain constantly. Neither of these things is likely to be true, and both are unhelpful at best, because the reinforce they sense that the pain is fixed, unchangeable, constant.

With that in mind, what do we do? While this may work better with hypnosis, bear in mind that hypnosis is after all a heightened state of suggestiveness, so any suggestion can work or begin to work. Here's what we do. Ask yourself, if this pain had a shape, what shape would it be? What colour? How big? What texture? Is is smooth or rough? Does it move? What temperature is it?

Stupid questions, I know. Pain doesn't usually have these characteristics. But that's the point. Since pain doesn't have physical characteristics, how do you change it? If you can't grab it, slap it, squeeze it or otherwise manipulate or change it, how do you make it less? The surprising thing is, when I've done this with people with chronic pain, invariably people come up with answers - and they're always different (because people are different, and because people experience pain differently).

Once you have some characteristics to work with, then you can visualise or imagine changing them, degrading or reducing them. If it's deep purple and the size of the room you're in, focus your imagination on the idea that the purple is beginning to fade a little, perhaps to a pink or to a grey; and that it's very gradually reducing in size, centimetre by centimetre.

Don't knock it till you've tried it - and not even then. Try it a few times, at different times, and reminding yourself that your mind is amazingly powerful, and that your body doesn't want to feel pain. It's sending you a signal, and it doesn't know that the signal is stuck on open, and it doesn't know that if it does need to send a signal (don't twist your back! Don't lie in the same position for too long!), then that signal can be just as effective, if you pay attention to it, as a three out of ten as at a nine or ten or a twenty out of ten.

I was going to say, believe me, this works. Don't believe me. Try it! And if you'd like to experience it in a hypnosis session, when such experiences can be greatly amplified, book a session or a free call.

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