People ask me how and why I work in chronic and complex pain, and often follow-up with the question of whether I experience on-going pain. Here’s my pain story.
In the early 90’s I trained to be a Registered Nurse. This was not a career that I wished to pursue, however the training was a wonderful three years spent learning about what it is to be human. I made it my business to see as much as I could, go to as many places as I could, gathering the most incredible experiences that now I deem to be of the upmost value.
It was this early introduction to illness, disease, dying, death and life that I realised some years later, to be the sculptor of my values and beliefs. Of course being 19 years old at the time, I did not fully appreciate what I was submerging myself into, yet somehow I did know that it was important to push myself into difficult situations. These you face consistently in healthcare, particularly as a nurse on the wards and in the community. Working with people who are being pushed to their extremes gives you an appreciation of life itself.
It was whilst I was a student nurse that the concept of pain grabbed my interest. Why did different people respond in different ways? Now it is far clearer having spent the last 19 years thinking about and studying pain. However, at the time I was baffled and surrounded by explanations that were based on the body and structures–the biomedical model, which still predominates today sadly.
Between nursing and physiotherapy I read a degree in Sport Rehabilitation as I thought that this would fill the gap. I loved sport and this seemed like a happy union. Interesting as it was, I felt that I needed to be a physiotherapist and so I trooped off to physio school. This is where it all started to fall into place when I attended a lecture on pain given by Dr Mick Thacker. It was a massive ‘aha’ moment, and I never looked back. The session focused on the mechanisms of pain, and even at that early stage I realised the potential for understanding the variable and contextual nature of pain. Mick’s on-going input that came directly from his vast experience and immense knowledge grooved a way forward that was immediately applicable in the clinic. It was so exciting to be able to appreciate what was happening biologically to manifest in the way that pain can and does.
Since this time, I have continued to look at pain in many different ways. This was propelled by continuing to work under Mick’s tutorage in the form of the Pain MSc at Kings College London. Not only did we explore the depths of pain, what it is, what it means and how it comes about, but we also learned how to think and ask questions. I will never forget having to role-play with Mick in front of the group whilst he took the part of a patient. It was a fine performance on his part.
The Pain MSc at Kings College was some years ago now, but the grounding from all my experiences to date, and these are of course on-going, has really created my ‘physio-self’ but also my ‘self-self’ as I explore neuroscience, cognitive sciences, philosophy and other fields to understand what it is to be human. To understand this I believe, is to get to the root of the pain experience but also the plethora of conscious experiences that we embody every day.
The answer to the question of whether I feel pain and experience on-going pain is yes. The advantage of my understanding is that I can play myself certain messages that help, i.e. reduce the threat, and take action that I purport on a daily basis. It is always interesting to consider how pain clinicians and pain scientists perceive pain, and how this could be different to a non-clinician/scientist. There is a whole blog to be written on this subject!
Richmond specialises in treating and coaching individuals to overcome their chronic and complex pain using a programme called ‘Pain Coach’. Pain Coach is a comprehensive programme that addresses all dimensions of pain in an integrated manner; i.e. considering the whole person and all the body systems contributions to the emergence of pain. Pain Coach training is available for clinicians in small groups and as 1:1 mentoring. For more details, please visit the home page or call 07518 445493.