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Pain, pain, go away

Pain and Somatic approaches to healing and psychotherapy


Pain is a complex and multifaceted experience. It involves intricate connections between the brain, nerves, and emotions. Pain can be a protective mechanism designed to alert the body to potential harm. Nociceptors, specialized nerve endings, detect harmful stimuli and send signals to the brain, initiating the perception of pain. But in chronic, or persistent, pain there is often a dysregulation in this signaling process, and the pain that an individual experiences does not have anything to do with tissue damage or potential harm, but rather is an oversensitisation phenomenon arising from the nervous system.


Chronic pain is difficult to live with and impacts so many aspects of everyday life. For example, physical movement is known to be amazing for general health with a range of physiological and mood-boosting benefits. But when one has chronic pain, moving becomes difficult. There can be fear of moving, fear of the pain and what it means (often catastrophising or thinking the worst). Overexertion on a chronic pain ‘good day’ can lead to flare-ups and a series of ‘bad days’, leading to a difficult ‘boom-and-bust’ cycle when it comes to movement, which, cruelly, then makes the pain experience worse.


Somatic practices such as yoga and tai chi and novel therapies can offer hope. They help foster using the mind-body connection to listen to signals your body sends regarding areas of pain or discomfort. Mindfulness meditation has shown efficacy in alleviating chronic pain by fostering a non-judgmental awareness of the present moment. The practice can modify the brain's response to pain, reducing its emotional impact and promoting a sense of well-being.


Neuroplasticity, the brain's ability to re-organise itself, plays a crucial role in chronic pain recovery. Somatic Experiencing, a trauma therapy modality developed by Dr Peter Levine, shows promise in using trauma reprocessing to modify the experience of pain through neuroplasticity.


Besides trauma reprocessing, which can help to resolve pain, psychotherapy can also help develop healthier coping mechanisms and reduce the impact of chronic pain on your life. By embracing the interplay between the brain, body, and emotions, individuals can embark on a journey of healing that addresses both the physiological and psychological aspects of their pain experience.


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