Engaged physiotherapy for pain and the modern world
Engaged physiotherapy is an approach embracing full awareness of oneself as a clinician, full awareness of the person you are working with, full awareness of the context and past, compassion (self and others), insight, and modern sciences (the facts ~ what we know). I have ‘borrowed’ the term from Thich Nhat Hanh who describes engaged Buddhism, which is the practical use of the philosophical principles such as mindfulness, mindful breathing and mindful walking.
Cultivating our awareness as clinicians and gaining insight into the causes of suffering affords us the opportunity to think clearly about the best action for the individual, in this case in pain. Together with an understanding an use of modern sciences, especially pain science, cognitive science and neuroscience (there is vast overlap of course), and philosophy, we can consider each person’s story and create a way onward that is grounded in understanding, compassion, belief and the right attitude to succeed.
There are simple practices that clinicians can use each day that develop and grow awareness and insight. Here are some examples:
- The greeting
- Being present during a consultation using the breath
- Deep and active listening
- Compassionate speech
- The creation of a calm and peaceful environment
The initial contact often sets the scene. We can think about how we present ourselves with posturing, gestures, language and the simple smile. I would suggest always going to the patient to greet them in the waiting area, and behaving very much like you are welcoming an old friend into your home.
Using the breath we remain present and aware of what is happening right now. What is passing through me (my mind)? Any bias? Preconception? Judgement? Being aware allows us to let these go so we can focus on active and deep listening. Practicing mindful breathing each day formally for 5-10 minutes helps us to develop this skill that we can use through the day, every day for professional and personal relations to benefit
One of the most valuable gifts we can give to another person is ourselves and our time. Being fully present to listen to the patient (or colleague or family member or friend) creates the conditions for a meaningful interaction. All involved parties benefit from meaningful interactions as we release certain healthy chemicals in these contexts. In deep listening we can hear and understand the suffering of the other, enabling the best and wisest course of action, which may simply be to continue to listen without interruption. Learning to be comfortable with silence is a valuable skill. Much can emerge from moments of silence. (Reading here)
Choosing our words carefully, considering their effects, is an important skill to develop. The words we utter have potent effects on others as they hear, process, imagine, think and react. Of course using kind, compassionate words can create the conditions for calm and insight, enabling the person to see a way forward. A focus on health and being well maintains the desired direction, hence the use of words that encourage this thinking and vision helps the person to orientate themselves towards a desired outcome.
We have the spoken word and we have the inner dialogue. Being skilful with both is important as we need to consider which thoughts we are fuelling, or which seeds we are watering by the way we think and what we say. An example would be the effects of engaging in idle gossip. In the long-term, gossip can create issues of trust and miscommunication that breeds suffering.
As a clinician, we should always be thinking about delivering the right messages based on truth, and that provide a compassionate way forward. Helping the patient develop their skills of self-compassion is frequently needed in cases of chronic pain. Understanding that self-compassion is one of the skills of well being helps individuals to practice and benefit from the nurturing of the care-giving systems in the body that play such a big part in our health and happiness.
Creating a calm environment
We are very responsive to the environment. Consider how you would feel working in an office with no windows and in the basement of a block compared to an office with a view over a park or a river.
Clinicians need to think about how the patient might think and feel coming into the clinic. We seek to create a peaceful space for people to experience feelings of calm and gain insight into how they can be, how they can transform their state of being and how they can use these practices in their day to day lives.
The simple practices are just some of the ways we can use our knowledge and skills to create the conditions for people to get better. We no longer have to think about managing or coping, instead use engaged physiotherapy and approaches to give people the belief, understanding and skills to coach themselves, fostering independence and a sense of agency, restoring choice and meaningful living.
These practices are part of the Pain Coach Programme, which is a focus upon getting better and achieving success in overcoming pain. The programme for patients is a comprehensive way forward addressing a pain problem by focusing on getting healthy and well, and the programme for clinicians is to develop their skills and knowledge to coach patients. If you would like further information, please email us: [email protected] or call 07518 445493.