Over the past year I have been working with the power of the mind. I have been observing how different thoughts or actions affect the body. Changing perceptions can change how you feel in an instance but can this work for other problems like pain? Most chronic pain patients I see have no hope that they can help themselves. They don’t even want to be going to therapy but the doctor has made them because they are tired of trying to help with no avail.
Some of the most successful treatment sessions were not when I placed my hands on the patient or gave them a magical set of exercise that they have already done before and failed, it has been when we have broken the cycle of thought. When the patient sees that you are willing to listen, they are able to open to new ideas and thoughts.
There is nothing more draining that working with a patient whose story is bigger than the actual pain they present with. Their story has grown over time with every failure and disappointment making their plight that much more dire. It is no wonder when the patient finally makes it to you they are such a wreck. The most common complaint I hear from others working with these patients is they want to tell you everything in their life that has failed due to this pain and they want to make sure you feel that pain.
Once concept I have learned over this last year is “your thoughts are not your thoughts.” It seems weird and out-there but play with it a bit. You can sit there and think of the greatest moments or thoughts and you feel great. There is happiness and joy. Now change that thought to the most painful or hurtful experience and immediately your whole body changes. You are overcome with hurt, fear, sadness, pain, all by a thought. You can now try to go back to a positive thought but it takes longer for it to recover from the negative thought.
I was playing with a HeartMath monitor that would determine your positive energy and was designed to help people control their thoughts. I tested it on my child. When she hooked it up it showed that she was 100% content. Then I had her repeat “I am bad” ten times and the meter rapidly went down to 50%. She now needed help to get back to the 100% so I had her repeat “I am good” ten times. The outcome was surprising; she did not make it back to 100%. Not even close. She improved by only small fractions. The body’s response to negative thought was so strong, it held on to this negative state for a significant amount of time. This was a demonstration with a very happy, well adjusted child that had a hard time recovering from the pain just a negative thought had. Now imagine your patient that has been living those thoughts for years. It is going to take some work, a lot of work.
- You have to earn total buy-in from the patient. You can start off with just a small buy-in but if they don’t become fully sold then you can be fighting a battle that is not yours to fight.
- The patient needs to feel heard. No matter how irrelevant the story maybe, it is their story. Once you allow them to get it out, there is healing. Some of the most gratified patients are given no other treatment besides being heard.
- There needs to be a plan developed that both the practitioner and patient agree upon. No longer does the patient get to be passive. They have to realize that most of the work is within them.
- Failure is ok. It does not mean there is no hope; it just means that it was not the right path. I usually say at least we now know what not to do and move on.
- Be aware of thoughts. Thoughts can be more harmful than anything the patient does. Change the thoughts and you change the ability to heal.
Clinical Fellowship Instructor
The North American Institute of Orthopaedic Manual Therapy
About the Author
Rajesh is a Physical Therapist, who is passionate about health and wellness. He is interested in all aspects of general well being including fitness, nutrition and mindfulness. He continues to learn and grow from the profession he loves.
If this article is helpful to you or you would like to get more information, please do not hesitate to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
2 thoughts on “5 Tips for Helping Chronic Pain Patients Using the Power of the Mind”
Hi Dr. Khemrah,
I am a new grad and I am very curious to see an example of how your conversations with these type of chronic patients are like. I have been reading “the lost art of listening” book and I feel like I can apply a lot of their listening skills to help these patients.
You would definitely see it happen when we do mentorship or fellowship training. I would recommend giving it a try. Rajesh