The Soul of Mastering Pain

Pain. The word itself can make heart race and palms sweat. Those of us who suffer with severe daily pain know that this simple word has the power to torment our lives... Pain can change everything. Our story, like many others, involves intense pain, unanswered questions, worry, fear, grief, and loss.

Our experience straddles the worlds of both doctor and patient. Professionally, we are doctors of the mind and body - psychologists. As people who experience persistent and intermittent pain, we manage the uninvited beast of pain in our own lives.  But our daily experience of pain is different now.  We no longer suffer.  And, we feel a greater sense of control and power over the pain. This is our story; but, it is also the story of all the people we encounter in our business. Combining our personal and professional experience and expertise, we’ve developed the Mastering Pain Method, which is quickly proving to be invaluable and is gaining momentum as it inspires our patients to share their path to pain mastery with others.

We strive to share our passion: bringing the exciting developments in the science of pain and neuroplasticity to the pain community -- why normal biological changes enhance the pain experience, and how to use neuroplasticity to reduce it. We thrive when we pay it forward.  And, given the benefits we have experienced, we are excited to share it as widely as possible to reduce the suffering of persistent pain. Being a part of changing lives and inspiring a societal shift in the treatment of chronic pain is our meraki -- the essence of who we are, and the driving force behind what we do.

Suffering is a universal truth -- it is a fact of life. Pain is one of the most prevalent forms of suffering. Pain management has become a societal burden and, so far, society is failing to adequately treat the problem. In fact, many of the traditional treatments for pain have even perpetuated the problem. For example, opioids have been the primary treatment for pain for hundreds of years. Opioids temporarily reduce pain and have a valid purpose in the treatment of some pain conditions. Unfortunately, the use of opioids can also result in addiction, be less effective over time, and can cause significant worsening of pain (hyperalgesia). Societally, opioids can be misused and illegally sold on the street. This results in overuse of emergency departments, straining health-care costs, work productivity loss, increase in crimes, and deaths due to overdose. Outcomes like this have led to increased regulatory oversight, fear of prescribing, and stigma towards those with pain who are taking prescription opiates.

In addition to inadequate treatments for chronic pain, the problem is also exacerbated by the traditional attitudes held by the very professionals charged with the duty to treat pain. The traditional attitude is one of condescension and often dread of having to work with people suffering from chronic pain. This can be demonstrated by how providers are encouraged to “not reinforce the pain behaviors.” Pain behaviors are the winces, limps, and “ouches” that are naturally expressed when someone is in pain. Not “reinforcing” the pain behavior is intended to decrease the pain behaviors, but is really an act of ignoring and invalidating the individuals pain experience. It may decrease pain behaviors, but it has no effect on the pain itself. Invalidating and ignoring the individual’s experience has a lasting effect which can often lead to frustration, depression, anxiety, and hopelessness. This unhelpful attitude permeates traditional chronic pain treatment and is the crack in the foundation of its approach. Some traditional approaches are patronizing and harmful to the very healing process they are intended to create. Clearly, these traditional approaches and attitudes need to be abandoned because they are not working. Societal and professional attitudes towards chronic pain need a revolution.

The revolution begins by approaching pain treatment with a fundamentally different attitude. Instead of the traditional patronizing approach, the treatment of pain must come from a foundation of compassion, validation, respect, and professional treatment. The Mastering Pain Institute is passionately leading this charge. Our attitude and approach to pain management are creating the opportunity for great outcomes for individuals with pain. When people with pain are validated in their genuine experience, they can relax because they know that they are being heard and understood; they can then open up. They can become open to trying new techniques, new exercises, new ways of thinking, and new perspectives on life. This is the essence of what we are all about: caring for people with pain and ultimately making a difference.

The new techniques are helping people with pain decrease the pain they experience by literally changing the biology of their brain, spinal cord, and other body systems. This is accomplished through the scientific principle of neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is the process of continual changes in the nervous system that occur due to specific forms of stimulation. Persistent pain signals are one form of stimulation. The brain and spinal cord literally change in response to chronic pain signals from the body leading to increase signal detection and pain amplification. Neuroplasticity is one of the primary reasons why untreated chronic pain becomes worse over time. But, this is not a one-way system. Neuroplasticity can also be used to reverse the amplification of pain -- a fact that we are exploiting to change biology and reduce the intensity, agony, and impact of pain. We are extending the rationale of psychological intervention for pain by grounding treatment in biology and neuroplasticity.

While individuals may have suffered greatly over the years (with traditional approaches having hindered the healing process), a change is coming. The Mastering Pain Institute is at the forefront of a societal shift in pain management that brings together compassion and the application of sciences -- changing the biology of pain. The essence of what we do at the Mastering Pain Institute is truly unique and unlike any other approach to pain management.

A recent success story:
One person with pain recently in our clinic with a migraine and self-reported pain level of 9 on a scale of 0-10. The pain had lasted for the previous six days and had no response to medication. When she came in for her session, she was taught a simple pain mastery technique and left the session with significantly reduced pain, rated all the way down to a level of 2. That same day, this patient had a scheduled appointment with her neurologist for injections to treat her migraines. At the conclusion of the session, she decided to cancel the neurologist appointment as it was no longer necessary.

This is one example of thousands that are experienced every day by individuals who have been taught the Mastering Pain Method in our clinical practice. Our patients get better. They feel empowered by having tools that they can use on their own whenever they want. Because of what we offer, they are no longer limited to being dependent on a doctor’s prescription, injections, surgery, massage, or adjustments. Now they have additional tools that they can use on their own, empowering them with some control over their experience of pain. This builds self-efficacy, hope, and an ability to adapt. And, it helps people with pain gain mastery over their pain -- ultimately changing their lives.