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Understanding Pain

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by Pierre Benoit

Pain is a complex subject that needs to be understood in order to effectively manage it. Pain can be divided into two categories: acute and chronic. Acute pain is physiological and organic and results from physical injury or illness. It is characterized by a sudden onset and intense severity. It is a signal from the body that it has been or is being damaged in some way. This type of pain needs to be evaluated by a dentist, a doctor or other health professional before hypnotherapy is utilized in its management.

Chronic pain is long-term and ongoing. It is real, but it is a blend of physical and psychogenic factors. The psychogenic components originate psychologically. The longer that the client or patient has been in pain, the greater the psychogenic component. Chronic pain is very much influenced by external stressors, client or patient attitudes, and the factors of tension, fear and anxiety.

Pain causes tension and tightening of the body. This reaction is a normal response to resist the pain. Tension and tightness increase the severity of pain sensation. Pain is approximately 25% physical and 75% emotional.

There are three factors that have a great deal to do with how an individual experiences pain.

Tension: this is a learned response to ward off our fight back against the pain. As an individual tenses up, the muscles tighten which increases the pain experience on all levels. Muscle tension associated with pain can be alleviated with physical relaxation exercises through hypnotherapy.

Anxiety: this naturally follows tension and the pain experience. With tensed-up muscles, there is an increased sense of awareness that the pain will get worse. This anxiety or preoccupation with the pain causes further tension and constriction of the muscles. Anxiety is a very serious element in pain management.

Fear: this is the most insidious of the three components of pain. We first need to understand the relationship of fear and pain.

Individuals learn from birth to cope with paint, but if it is associated with trauma, they learn to fear pain. Pain is a subjective experience, as people grow older their fear of pain increases. They become aware of their helplessness to control it and pain itself begins to be surrounded by emotional factors. Tension, fear and anxiety are crucial underlying factors that greatly affect the pain experience. By dealing directly with these factors and breaking down their impact, the subjective experience of pain can be significantly reduced. Of the three components the tension, fear and anxiety cycle, anxiety is the most critical to address because it is the force that drives the cycle.

Another element to understand about pain is that the client or patient experiences both the sensory elements of pain and their emotional reactions to the sensations. This is called “suffering”. The suffering is emotional in nature, processed differently by the brain and intensifies the experience of the sensory elements of pain. This emotional suffering becomes part of the psychogenic component of pain and needs to be dealt with in the pain management plan.

A further complication of the pain syndrome is that some pain is actually the somatization of emotions. This happens when the client or patient internalize their feelings into physical discomfort. They really experience the discomfort, but the basis of their pain is psychological and emotional. They are literally feeling the pain of their life. To help these individuals it is necessary to help them remove emotions from their bodies and deal with the underlying psychological issues. This type of pain often appears connected to headaches, gastrointestinal issues or diseases.

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When choosing a hypnotherapist, it is important to be sure that he or she is qualified. Pierre Benoit, CHt, RCCH, is a member of the Association of Registered Clinical Hypnotherapists of Canada (ARCH) and of the International Medical and Dental Hypnotherapy Association (IMDHA) and can be reached at (514)472-3535.

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