Category Archives: Communication

05Apr/17

5 ways a partner can help you

Chronic pain can be the source of huge strain upon a relationship. Partners and other people close to the suffering individual can be at a loss as to what they can do to help. Sometimes their assistance is welcomed and other times not. It can be confusing and stressful. There are many ways that a partner can help and some will be individual to those involved. Here are 5 ways a partner can help you:

Be an extra pair of ears and eyes

During consultations with specialists or therapists, it can be useful for a partner to come along. Beforehand you can decide upon their role. The possibilities include:

  • listening and note taking
  • offering observations about what has been happening
  • watching and learning exercises so that they can provide feedback at home
  • just being there for moral support

Sometimes having someone else in the room, even a loved one, can be distracting depending upon what is being practiced. So do discuss this with your clinician for the best outcome.

Understand pain

When your partner understands pain they will be able to further empathise and act through compassion rather than fear and worry. We do respond and are influenced by the people we are close to, meaning that if they have a working knowledge of pain they will better provide support and encouragement.

Pain can and does vary as each pain experience is as unique as each unfolding moment. Knowing that pain is related to perception of threat rather than tissue damage or injury, along with some of the main influences (e.g. emotional state, context, tiredness) helps to navigate a way forward. To overcome pain the person learns to coach themselves, making best choices in line with their picture of success. Sometimes we need help or someone to listen to us whilst making these choices.



A hug

Touch is healthy, especially from a loved one. Someone recently told me about how a hug from her children relieved her pain. Why? The release of oxytocin for a starter. The feelings of compassion and love can cut through all other emotions and feelings, which is why the development of self-compassion is one of the key skills of well-being.

Sometimes a hug can be painful of course, depending on where you feel your pain. If this is the case, then simple touch somewhere else is enough. Seek to notice the good feelings that emerge in you: what do they feel like? Where do you feel them? Concentrate on them. And if you are not with that person, just imagine a hug or a loving touch. This triggers similar activity, just like when you think about that beautiful scene in nature, your body systems respond as if you are there ~ our thinking is embodied.

Practice the skills of well-being together

A good example is metta or loving kindness meditation that cultivates self-compassion. It is best to gain instruction 1:1 to start with and then use a recording as a prompt until you are familiar with the practice. Group practice is also good when the collective or community creates a soothing atmosphere in which to practice.

At home, practice metta with your partner. Doing it together, you form a bond as you spend meaningful time together. You can also practice the exercises together. These are nourishing and healthy movements with the purpose of restoring confidence as well as layering in good experiences of activity to overcome pain.

Spend time together doing something meaningful

We are designed to connect. The chemicals we release and experience as that feel-good factor, do so when we have meaningful interactions. Pain all too often appears to limit choice and our tolerance for activity. However, on thinking about what we CAN do rather than what we cannot, we begin to build and broaden the effects of choosing positive action.

Positive action is all about focusing on what we can do: e.g./ I can go for a coffee with a friend for half an hour to gain the benefits of connecting, moving, a change of scene etc. and I will concentrate on these benefits. Make some plans, working within your current tolerance level, knowing that you are safe to do so, and follow them through by keeping yourself pointed towards the picture of success*. You can then gradually build your tolerance by pushing a little with increasing confidence.

There are many other ways that a partner can be involved. The key is to communicate openly and make plans together ~ here is a great insight into communication by Thich Nhat Hanh.


* Clarifying your picture of success gives you a direction and the opportunity to check in and ask yourself: am I heading in that direction or am I being distracted?

Please note: Whilst the practices above can appear to be straightforward, you should always discuss your approaches with your healthcare professional

14Dec/16

In pain ~ what is said, what is heard?

In pain ~ what is said, what is heard?

Anyone who has tried to describe their pain knows how incredibly difficult it is to find words that truly represent what they feel. The same could be said for many lived experiences, the ‘what it is like to……’ that we attempt to transmit to another person. But of course the other person cannot actually know or feel what you feel. We only know what it is like to be ‘me’.

Acknowledging this issue, when we ask people to describe their pain, they are permitted to use any words from their own vocabulary and any comparison or metaphor that emerges from their thinking because this is as close as they will get. Whilst they are telling us what they feel, as well as words that attempt to describe the raw feel of pain, others will demonstrate the degree of suffering and emotional distress that are the additional factors, or second arrow in Buddhism terms. We experience a raw feel, which would be the first arrow, and then the thoughts and emotions that have their own ‘feel’ and typically are the source of the greatest suffering, which are the second arrows.

The raw feel of pain is the raw feel of pain. The add ons are all the thoughts and feelings associated with the pain that are the cause of great suffering. 

Active or deep listening allows us to really hear what the person is saying to us. This is sitting in a state of calm and non-judgement, allowing the person to express themselves in their own unique way. Silence maybe part of this ‘exchange’ that the clinician can become increasingly comfortable residing in, with the knowledge that from silence can emerge important dialogue. Only through deep listening can we hear the words of the other that emerge within a particular context that must also be recognised ~ i.e. the difference in the way someone behaves in different situations such as the clinic when they may be anxious. We must get as close as we can to hear what the individual is saying: have I truly heard what they have said?

We can enhance the flow of communication with our posture and the way we move within the dialogue. A simple movement towards the person shows engagement whilst eye contact can be used judiciously. It is worth considering that for some people eye contact can be challenging or threatening, hence awareness and being present are important.

Our way of being, when filled with compassion and empathy, creates the opportunity for the person to speak and tell their story that is full of all the information that we need as clinicians to gain insight into their suffering and the causes of their suffering.

Pain Coach Programme for chronic pain | skills of well being to live a meaningful life | t. 07518 445493

Pain and Communication

The problem of pain

Pain and communicationCommunication has a large role in pain from the perspective of telling someone that you are suffering but also in the treatment of pain. At the BASRaT Symposium last week I outlined some of the key features that I will summarise here.

Before discussing communication I highlighted what is the one of the most significant and costly problems on the planet: pain. There are vast costs to society and individuals as the numbers of people suffering chronic pain are enormous. The British Pain Society recently called it the ‘silent epidemic’.

It is thought that 20% of the population suffer on-going pain, including 1 in 5 children. Whilst we can say that the former is a significant number necessitating action, the latter absolutely needs to change. We must understand why this is the case. What is it about modern living and culture that is creating a generation of pain and anxiety? There are some obvious candidates: pressure to achieve at all costs, a lack of self-esteem, narcissism encouraged by popular culture, and obsession with social media at the expense of developing connections and communication skills (including addiction to devices).

One of the main reasons for the scale of the pain problem is the misunderstanding of pain through society. The biomedical model still predominates when there is the search for a structure or pathology to explain the pain and extent of the pain. The preferable biopsychosocial model takes into consideration the important psychological and social dimensions, but often the ‘bio’ receives most attention. Modern understanding of pain would suggest that actually, a better framing would be a sociopsychobiological model because whilst understanding the pathophysiology and molecular aspects of pain is important for scientists and clinicians, the person in pain just needs to know what to do when they are in pain. They need a process to follow with an understanding as to why this is important. Neuroscience education has a place in the treatment of pain, but not a primary one.

Pain is a subjective experience emerging in the person, influenced by a range of social, cultural, contextual and environmental factors, past experiences and beliefs, in the face of a perceived threat. Pain is about protection and survival.

Pain & communication

With the size of the problem in mind alongside the understanding that pain is poorly related to injury and tissue health or pathology, we looked at some important aspects of communication.

One of the communication streams that is often forgotten is the inner dialogue. This is the story that you tell yourself about you and life; that little voice that is so familiar and if not trained can be so disruptive. This is the inner dialogue that can cause such suffering when we berate ourselves for not being good enough. This is relevant for the person with chronic pain as self-criticism is a common feature when in fact kindness and self-compassion is a key driver in getting better. Equally, the clinician’s inner dialogue will affect his or her approach and decision making. Think of a scenario when you are tired, you were late for work, you stubbed your toe on the bed and then you are faced with your first patient who has not improved. You need clarity of thought to approach this situation, not a mind cluttered with annoyance and frustration.

What are you telling yourself? What are you convincing yourself? How are you choosing to think?

How we communicate pain to the person has an impact on their understanding, which is paramount in validating their story to date, and in helping them engage with the programme. Firstly we must listen deeply so that we can know the person as much as the condition ~ the two are not separate. Listening deeply is a skill allied with active listening when you are fully present, in contact via body position, your eyes and expressions (verbal and non-verbal), and allowing them the space and time to tell their story. This narrative holds many clues so our full attention is required, jotting down key points and phrases. In sum, there are different communication dynamics co-existing: the inner dialogue of the person, that os the clinician and the (outer) communication between the two.

Compassion and empathy

Cultivating compassion and empathy as a clinician is an extremely worthwhile exercise. Those who have chosen the caring professions have already demonstrated these characteristics by the very nature of the choice ~ we care and want to help others to live their lives. It is interesting and reflective to consider the question: why do I care?

Not only is this important for the clinician, but also for the patient to learn such skills, especially if they are hard on themselves. It is very easy to pick up on this when they speak to you. The problem with being a self-critic without control is that it is very threatening and hence is provoking the self-protect systems that exist to make sure we survive. These systems have a significant role in pain and hence we are aiming to do the very opposite: active the care-giving systems and effect parasympathetic actions. In a sense our job is to help the person realise that they are safe, how they can safely build up their meaningful activities and adapt in a way that means they are living meaningfully.

What are compassion and empathy?

  • Empathy ~ the capacity to share the feelings of others
  • Compassion ~ feelings of warmth, concern and care for the other…with a strong motivation to improve the other’s wellbeing (Singer & Klimecki)

These will be familiar to clinicians and therapists, but what may not be so familiar is the fact that we can train and practice simple skills to improve our capacity.

It will not be a surprise to many that our brains change when we practice and learn, and this is no different for compassion. Neuroscientists have been looking at these mechanisms for some years now, gathering data on these brain changes and how they manifest in the person. Aside from the science, developing a compassionate society has obvious benefits for all:

Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive ~ Dalai Lama

These are skills that should be practiced from an early age with purpose, in homes, schools and workplaces. And just to be clear, compassion is not characterised by weakness or femininity as can be said; not at all. Compassion takes courage and is for all.

Simple practices

There are a range of practices that clinicians and therapists can use for both themselves and their patients. Remember that there is an interaction between the care-giver and receiver, both benefitting from a kind action on a chemical level. Fostering and nurturing every opportunity means that we set the scene: the welcome, the greeting, the opening question or comment, the engagement, the demonstration of care, the calm environment, and much more. Being aware of the present moment and crafting each unique session is a skill to be fostered.

It is beyond the scope to describe the following in detail, but as an indicator, these practices are easily started, often a challenge to continue, but immensely worthwhile for the individual and society:

  • mindfulness
  • lovingkindness meditation
  • the practice of gratitude
  • cultivating an ability to control the wandering mind
  • purposefully generating positive emotions

It is worth remembering that as a clinician, you are the treatment as much as any approach you apply. There is no separation. Developing your capacities hence will have a significant impact on your clients and patients as you increasingly set the scene and communicate in such a way that the person feels trust towards you, a sense of being cared for and a belief that they can get better.

Here is a great video from one of the foremost researchers in the field of compassion, Richard Davidson

For further information on the Pain & Wellbeing Coach Programme or clinician/therapist 1:1 Pain Coach Mentoring contact us below or call 07518 445493