Pain.

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—View from the far side of the recliner

Alright, I finally got this pain thing written. It took longer than most posts, is probably a lot heavier on information and less on the humor. At least what I consider funny.

Pain.

And then there is pain, the phenomena that led me to hypnotherapy in the first place. Pain is huge! A large part of the pharmaceutical industry is based on pain, as are all kinds of non-prescription devices, lotions, balms, powders, supports, pads, wraps, hot packs, cold packs, liquids and pills. Many, if not most of the visits to physicians, massage therapists, physical therapists and chiropractors are for pain. Pain is good for business. Pain is business. It certainly has paid a chunk of my bills since becoming a PT in 86.

You can’t trust Pain.

Generally people try to avoid pain. There are situations when some people seek physical pain to relieve psychological suffering but that is the exception. Pain is (kind of) nature’s way of saying “Don’t do that” and (naturally) “this going to hurt you worse than it is going to hurt me”. Nature can be kind of a jerk sometimes. It turns out that pain can be worse than the engine light on a dashboard for giving an accurate warning of when something is seriously wrong.  Stubbing a toe, stepping on a nail, hitting your thumb instead of a nail, hangnails, cold sores, dental work, touching something hot, and first degree burns, all of that can really hurt a lot and yet doesn’t cause serious tissue damage and won’t kill you. There are many things that don’t cause pain, especially in the early stages that are life threatening. Cancer, aneurisms, parasites, high blood pressure and infections often begin unannounced and continue to develop silently until it is too late or at least much harder to treat.  Where is pain when you need it?

The way senses work.

For what are usually considered senses, touch, hearing, smell, taste and vision, if the sense organs themselves and the wiring is intact, the stimulus pretty much comes through without a lot of interpretation. The stimuli come from specific sources; light and sound waves, tasty and smelly molecules, heat, cold and pressure. Once the stimulus is received then all kinds of associations can happen. When I smell musty dampness I have a happy association with my grandparents’ basements and diesel fumes I associate with great car trips. When someone else smells musty dampness or diesel fumes there are likely to be very different associations. Basically it seems that no matter what you are thinking or feeling prior to the stimulus, orange is orange both the color and the taste, the same type of coffee smells the same. Whether you focus on the stimulus or not, it pretty much gets through unaltered. The same stimulus tends to be perceived as being the same at different times and by different people. The color orange is the same today and tomorrow and to you and me.

Pain is different.

Pain is processed through a number of places in the brain and there are different types of pain, acute vs. chronic, pulsing, burning, crushing, tingling, hot, cold, numbing, pinching, sharp and dull. Believe me there is a very long list. Pain can be very localized, over a larger area or seem to be in the entire body. Unlike the specific stimuli for the “regular” senses, pain is much more varied. Pain is a phenomena in which the same stimulus is experienced differently at different times and by different people. The amount of other stimuli you are receiving at the same time can affect the amount of or even if pain is perceived. Sitting in a chair totally absorbed in the sights and sounds of great movie while eating popcorn is a totally different pain experience than sitting in the same chair without any other stimulation. What you are thinking and the mood you are in have a huge effect on pain perception.

The Shot.

Not your happy place.

Think about a child that going to get a shot. You may have been through this one yourself. If the kid’s parents are stressed and keep saying “be brave, this isn’t going to HURT”, the kid is thinking “why do I have to be brave if it isn’t going to HURT?”Big brothers can always make things worse by saying “I bet you’re going to cry, I had a shot and it made my arm black and blue and the needle was this BIG!”. The kid has to sit there in a drab room for a very, very long time (for a young kid just sitting still for five minutes is torture). Nobody is talking about happy things, or singing songs, playing with or reading to the child sitting. The adult/s may even be checking or talking on their cell phones. Someone might suddenly remember about the time that Uncle Bob passed out when he saw the needle. The nurse comes in couldn’t care less, barely says anything other than “sit still”. Poor kid. That shot is really going to hurt.

A better place.

Now imagine the same kid in a room with interesting decorations, maybe music or even kid friendly videos, parents and siblings talking about pleasant things, maybe enjoyable activities that are going to happen after the visit to the doctor. During the wait the child is encouraged to move around maybe playing with a toy. Someone might let the child play on a cell phone. When the nurse arrives he/she talks to the child in a nice unhurried way. When it is time for the poke someone distracts the child in a direction away from the nurse perhaps with a picture and/or story about when the kid was feeling especially good and strong. Wow! Done already? Let’s go do ____ (whatever is the next happy thing on the list).

Same shot but a totally different experience. Child birth, surgeries, dentist appointments and chemo/radiation therapy can be experienced in very different ways.

It’s all in the Mind.

Much of pain is fear, fear that you won’t be able to deal with the pain, expectations that a procedure will be painful, perhaps based on exaggerated stories, TV, movies or even an imagination gone wild. Contrary to the old saying “ignorance is bliss”, ignorance can actually be fear which leads to increased pain. Sometimes ignorance is just ignorance, but I don’t know. Just knowing that you can have control over pain gives you some control over pain. Watching a video of a woman calmly delivering a baby using hypnosis can both negate unrealistic fear and set up the expectation that it is possible to have a baby in a natural and relatively relaxed manner. There are many techniques that can help deal with pain. In addition to education I often use breathing techniques, visualization and hypnosis to give my clients the tools they need to control or eliminate pain.

Etcetera.

In a hypnotic trance a person can eat an onion thinking that it is an apple, feel one arm become weightless while the other becomes so heavy it can’t be lifted, that the room becomes very hot or cold, hear or smell things that aren’t there or can’t see. Pretty impressive. The mind’s grasp on the senses can be tricked and that can be both entertaining and a good demonstration of the reality of the effect of hypnosis. But as far as making a real improvement in someone’s life tricks don’t count for much. The real deal, the thing that gets me so excited about hypnotherapy and the other techniques is the power they give people to achieve their goals, overcome stress and anxiety. The thing that started the whole thing for me was working with people in chronic pain. I’ve used the techniques on myself (as blathered about in previous posts) and many patients/clients. It’s all in the mind and it’s real.

Next time someone says “It’s a pain”, you can say “yeah but it doesn’t have to be”.

Next post will probably be about something interesting called Enneagram.

Feel free to contact me with any comments, requests and of course if you know someone who might be interested in these posts please send them on.
Thanks,
Don Berlyn

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Hypochondria and Pain: real Mind-Body Phenomena

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View from the far side of the recliner

Hypochondria and Pain: real Mind-Body Phenomena

I saw a client tonight who came to see me for hypochondria.  The details aren’t important other than a bit of medical history with a non-genetically related family member that died of a condition in the same area that my client felt symptoms. The client did have an examination and discovered that there was a mild issue in the area. Mentally this client was able to rationally think through the unlikelihood that the headaches that were experienced off and on over the years was a brain tumor or that there wasn’t cancer or nerve damage somewhere but the stress and anxiety were real. For this person the fear of an illness has had a debilitating effect on their quality of life. The good news is that if the mind is the source of a problem it can also be the cure. Tonight’s session seemed to go very well. I’ll find out soon how effective it was.

A couple of years ago I saw a woman who had been in constant burning leg pain from diabetic neuropathy. She reported unrelenting pain which was becoming worse. We used a technique in which the person localized the feeling in the body, identified the quality of the feeling and any other sensory attributes. So the negative items were, a burning pain throughout both legs and the colors of red/orange. The client then imagined what she did want. The positive attributes were a cool feeling in both legs, the colors of blue and green, and I think the sound of water.

With this technique the feeling is identified, localized in the body, the qualities of the feeling described, then any sensory effects that are related to the feeling. I ask about visual, auditory, smell and taste. At minimum there has to be a body area and quality of the sensation. Typically with the negative condition the client can identify a visual quality. On the positive side the client can usually come up with sensations for all the senses that help them feel good.

So the woman went into a relaxing trance using her breath, breathing in cool blue and green into her legs and breathing out hot red/orange. After coming out of the trance the client reported that she felt as though she was stepping into cool blue/green water and the pain, heat and the colors of red/orange moved out of her legs completely. For the first time in a long time she was completely pain free just using the power of her mind. Once she knew the technique she could use it whenever she wanted too. Well that was easy! Dealing with chronic pain was the reason I got into this crazy business.

Feel free to contact me with any comments and of course if you know someone who might be interested in these posts please send them on.
Thanks,
Don Berlyn

Self-Hypnosis for Injury, Surgery and Dentistry Part 2 The Hip!

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View from the far side of the recliner

One of my coolest experiences with self-hypnosis is when I had my hip replaced. There is a long story about how the hip came to deteriorate so badly. I’ll save that for another time. Basically there had been a traumatic injury to the leg on that side more than twenty-five years earlier.
The day came for the surgery and the plan was that I was going to have a spinal so I would be numb from the waist down and use hypnosis for everything above the waist. Typically a sedative called versed is used to keep the patient calm, still and sleepy during a medical procedure where a general anesthetic is not used.
As a physical therapist I was very aware of what happens during a hip replacement, having observed a couple and worked with very many patients after their surgery. If you are curious you might be able to find a video on the internet. Basically orthopedic surgery is carpentry with blood. There are saws, reamers, drills, chisels, mallets, screws and metal plates. Hip replacement adds the field of mechanics because there are two pieces that are made of some combination of metal, ceramics, and/or plastic that are driven into the bones to make the new joint.
During the surgery I was able to talk to the anesthetist, later the nurse anesthetist, hear everything that was going on, feel my body being dragged down as my leg was tractioned and the pounding when the socket part was hammered into my pelvis. I could also feel the surgeon pushing into my side to get leverage and a weird kind of patting on my abdomen which turned out to be the instruments that were being laid on and taken off my belly. It seems that during surgery the patient is often “out” and the patient’s face is behind the surgical drape, the patient gets used as kind of a table. The drape over the patient is sterile so there’s no problem, it just felt strange.
Mentally I was able to check out and go to the beach or mountains whenever I wanted. I felt calm and relaxed throughout the procedure except towards the end when it felt kind of hard to breath. During surgery there are straps across the patient stabilizing them on the table as well as straps around the forearms to keep the arms stationary for the IVs. After I had been pulled toward the foot of the table, the straps had moved up on my chest making it somewhat difficult to breath. This seemed to get worse later in the surgery. Other than that everything was great.
Because I was never “out” I never had to regain full awareness without grogginess, nausea, discomfort or dizziness. I felt good. Later there was some discomfort but never intense pain.
There was a really interesting phenomena. When I sat up on the table with my legs straight to get the spinal anesthetic I noted that my toes were pointing toward the ceiling. The anesthetic worked very quickly. As I lay on the table, from time to time I checked in on where my feet were. My brain always told me that my feet were together pointing at the ceiling even though I knew that most of the time my left leg was completely off and below the level of the table with my leg turned as far as it would go. Strange, the tricks that your mind can play on you!
By the way, if you or someone you know is thinking about getting a hip replacement make sure to ask about the options with pros and cons. This probably applies to most procedures.
Next time I’ll finish up with personal experiences with self-hypnosis for dental procedures. After that it’ll be Blissborn the new (for me) hypnosis assisted childbirth technique.

Feel free to contact me with any comments and of course if you know someone who might be interested in these posts please send them on.
Thanks,
Don Berlyn

Self-Hypnosis for Injury, Surgery and Dentistry Part 1

For more information about the below post, click here.
View from the far side of the recliner

I went into hypnotherapy to work with people in pain. Less than a year later there was an opportunity to use self-hypnosis to deal with a sudden injury in a challenging situation. I was on an annual weeklong retreat. One of the days was twenty four hours in silence, alone as much practical. Most of us spent the day in nature. There is a beautiful canyon in the desert with a stream flowing through it. I drove a woman from Switzerland to the canyon in the morning. We had agreed the previous day to meet in the canyon later in the day for the drive back to town.
After we went our separate ways, I crossed the stream to get to a spot up higher in the rocks. While bracing myself between two vertical rocks to get over an opening my wet shoe slipped causing me to fall forward with my right arm stuck against the rock. I felt my shoulder dislocate and then reduce (go back into place). I was able to quickly determine that one muscle was completely torn off the bone but that there was no nerve or circulatory damage. So it was not an emergency situation and I couldn’t just take off and leave my friend from Switzerland alone in the canyon without a ride. I had planned to meditate anyway. I propped my forearm on my pack and using some combination of meditation and self-hypnosis I was able to stay in place for several hours. Meeting my friend, walking out of the canyon and driving back to town was a bit more uncomfortable. Moving the arm didn’t help and having to be focused on where I was walking and driving did not allow me tune out.
It was at least six weeks until the shoulder got repaired. I listened to a pre and post-surgery hypnosis CD. During the outpatient surgery it was not possible to wear any type earphones, I ended up with a nerve block and general anesthesia. Coming out of surgery I felt pretty bad. It was difficult to focus, between the pain meds, the ice water machine and interrupted sleep. After a few days it became easier to use hypnosis.
This was a good learning experience. I was able to use hypnosis to relax, block pain and stay calm after being injured. It helped of course that I had the knowledge and experience to be able to determine that the situation was not an emergency. After the surgery I don’t know if being under general anesthesia then pain meds kept me from being able to focus enough to use hypnosis. I’m not sure that using hypnosis (at least at my skill level at the time) without any pain meds would have been sufficient to control the pain.
My experience with a hip replacement a couple of years later was totally different. I’ll blog about that next time.

Feel free to contact me with any comments and of course if you know someone who might be interested in these posts please send them on.
Thanks,
Don Berlyn