Coaching for dystonia and functional disorders

Coaching people with dystonia to improve their lives

This week I have been at the British Neurotoxin Network meeting in Oxford. This is the first time I have attended since I spoke about ‘non-motor factors’ a few years ago. So it was good to hear Michael Hutchinson speak about the importance of being more than an injector. Of course this resonates as I believe that the only way to really be of use is by taking the whole person approach. Many interesting talks and conversations kept the energy high.

I was brought into the world of dystonia and functional disorders by Dr. Marie-Helene Marion. We were talking over lunch about pain and dystonia and quickly recognised many common features. Since then we have seen many patients, blending injections with what I will now call coaching.

A brief history

The idea of Pain Coaching came to me about eight or nine years ago. Having trained as a nurse, a physiotherapist, accompanied by a degree in sport rehabilitation and a master’s degree in pain science, it struck me that people suffering persistent and complex pain needed something different.

From my teens I had coached cricket. I realised that the idea of encouraging someone to achieve their best and seeking to achieve a particular goal was applicable to both the colts cricketers and to people I was seeing with pain. In fact, it was apparent that I was already coaching.

By chance, I met Mike Pegg who has helped to pioneer of strengths-based coaching. His talk inspired me and I made contact. Since that time, he has been a great encourager. This is no coincidence for this is Mike’s purpose, as you will see if you read his website, which you should.

As I immersed myself in the world of coaching and peak performance, I found that much of what was being said to get the best of people resonated. That is what we are doing in the clinic: encouraging and motivating individuals to reach their potential to get better, to master themselves and their lives and to generate best states to enable this to happen. More and more this simply became my way, blended with pain sciences, themselves a puree of scientific and philosophical fields.

As humans, one of the characteristics of our architecture is how it enables us to change and update our models of the world. We are designed to develop and learn. Hence, to overcome pain, dystonia and functional disorders is by learning, tapping into our natural resources. Of course you are only able to read this because you have learned to read.

Chronic pain and dystonia and other movement disorders

The similarities were stark when Dr Marion and I first spoke. Now they are more obvious than ever, which creates great hope for both pain and dystonia. There are so many tools and practices that we can use to help people improve their lives.

Embodied cognition, enactivism and predictive processing all help formulate practical explanations for people’s unique perceptions. Too,┬áthese fields of science and philosophy offer a way forward as the person understands what they are feeling, thinking and doing, and how they come together each moment.

From this standpoint, which in essence is a greater awareness, best choices become apparent. The alternative is chasing the future or rerunning the past. Neither exist except in our unreliable memory, and making decisions based on this fragile standpoint does not typically offer the ideal way forward. We can do better and this is the reason for coaching. Or rather, coaching people to coach themselves to get results.

The two overlapping elements are proactive and responsive, each containing a large range of practices, tools, strategies and exercises. All point towards a picture of success. Proactive training includes all that must happen each day, when and how. The responsive practices are those we learn and employ in different situations as needed to maintain direction.


The type of coaching I propose is based on clarifying the person’s strengths and playing to these on a day to day basis. For a moment, you may like to consider three of your strengths, thinking of specific examples of when you were using them. Notice how you feel.

Once there is an understanding of the condition, the person’s existing approach or style and what they want to achieve, we work together to create the steps that must be taken each day. These are the tools. However, we need more than that to be successful. We need to be engaged and the know-how.

Coaching encourages the person to prime themselves, or to get into the right mindset, or zone. This begins the engagement and optimises learning. During the training we must be fully focused and there are ways of improving our ability to focus. This is always part of the coaching programme.

When explaining the importance of know-how to people I use a simple analogy. My wife could buy me the best drill in the world because she wants me to hang some pictures on the wall. Despite having the best drill in the world, I am still making big holes because I do not have the know how. With each practice, tool, exercise and strategy, we must coach the know how.

Put simply, coaching is about getting the best of ourselves and others. This is what we want for the people who come along. They are seeking ways to improve their lives and as clinicians and therapists we can help. It is not just in what we do, but how we do it. The coaching model, in particular strengths-based approaches offer so much as a way to encourage, motivate and deliver results for people who have been suffering pain, dystonia, functional disorders and health issues by focusing on what they want and how to get there.


Give Jo a call now to book your appointment and get started: 07518 445493

  • The Pain Coach Programme
  • The Dystonia Coach Programme
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