Home › ThinkSpace › Week 9: Mindfulness As a Way to Get in Touch with Your Body › Mindful therapies for coping
May 5, 2016 at 4:00 am
Welcome to our discussion of mindful therapies and how developing emotional coping mechanisms may also have a positive impact on our physical wellbeing!
A few months ago I read this scholarly article about how different mindfulness models can be integrated into the medical treatment of chronic pain. I found it fascinating, even though much of what it said wasn’t new to me. I know that the ideas it discusses aren’t unique to this article, but I am sharing it since it was meaningful for me.
Day MA, Jensen MP, Ehde DM, Thorn BE. Toward a Theoretical Model for Mindfulness-Based Pain Management. The Journal of Pain 15(7), 691–703 (2014).
It just all made so much sense, and seeing the mind-body connection described in this way was really satisfying for me. What I liked reading about the most was how mindful therapies have been shown to improve our pain experience. I realized the many different ways in which this has been true for me.
Two years ago, when I realized that I was having serious issues with stress and coping, I sought help from a behavioral therapist that employs many of the mindful techniques discussed in this article. I continue to see her today and find that maintaining my mental health has been just as helpful for managing my pain as treating my physical health. I learned that this is called Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), a kind of counterpart to MBSR. Its approach is to teach patients how to examine the links between our thoughts and our stress, our emotions and our physical sensations. Through reading this article and breaking down my experience, I have picked out several ways in which this therapy has helped me.
It has helped me separate myself from my pain and analyze it in a nonjudgmental way. I learned that this is called emotional decoupling. It also helps create some distance between my sense of self and this pain, which has been a useful way to reperceive my experiences. It has helped me accepted my experience and my pain, as I’ve mentioned in other discussions. Instead of focusing so closely on the pain itself, I’m working to shift focus to my emotional response to the pain. Therapy is helping me to stop catastrophizing my pain, though I still fall back to this in particularly tough periods (that downward spiral!) by helping me build tools that I believe I can call on to manage this pain. This is called self-efficacy (and expecation management, which we will talk about tomorrow!). The last thing I’ll mention is fear. Therapy has helped me acknowledge and work through the fears I have developed alongside my pain. For me specifically, this means the fear of an activity that might cause me pain. I was avoiding certain movements and exercises, as well as avoiding social activities that might be difficult. I still have a lot of work to do, but I think using all the tools I’m developing has helped me approach pain differently and reduced fear as an impediment to my actions.
The article discusses other ways for how mindful cognitive therapy can make an impact in reducing people’s experience of pain. Mindful therapies don’t have to include the traditional behavioral therapy model that I chose, but any method that promotes training our minds to examine the link between our thoughts and our physical being. I am interested in hearing more about how you may have practiced therapies, and specifically how you have developed coping mechanisms for yourself. If any of this resonates with you, please share your experience!
Have you found that mindfulness practices increase your emotional coping mechanisms for dealing with chronic illness or pain? Which practices have the greatest therapeutic effect for you?
#mindfulnessforcoping #mindfulnessbasedcognitivetherapy #retrainthebrain #distancethepain
May 6, 2016 at 8:23 pm
Rachel, the article sounds interesting but unfortunately I am no longer working for the medical school so I don’t have access, and there is a charge of $31.50 to read it. Unless there is another way…
You mentioned fear being caused by pain, but there is also the possibility that pain is caused by fear (and the stress that comes with it). So does pain cause fear, or does fear cause pain? Who knows, maybe it’s a chicken-and-egg dilemma. But if the pain is caused or held in the body by fears or past trauma, working on those issues with a therapist or even on one’s own (through various methods such as journaling, the Gaga dancing mentioned in the Movement topic, or the intuitive art exercises in the Expressive Art topic) can help illuminate the cause, reduce, and even eliminate the pain.
I have experienced a lot of my growth through journaling in one form or another. Although I don’t think it is usually associated with mindfulness, as with anything it depends upon how one approaches the practice. With mindful intention on just the thought-to-hand process in the moment, it can be a powerful emotional coping mechanism. There is often a sense of relief and release after committing thoughts to paper. It provides evidence of my process, and can be reviewed later to see just how much I have progressed. And there is a record of it for posterity. 😉
#fearandpain #journaling #release
May 7, 2016 at 11:40 am
Gail, thank you for bringing up the paid access to the article. I found another version freely available on Google Scholar.
I’m glad you mentioned that fear and trauma can lead to pain. I’ve learned this as well, although it wasn’t my personal experience. I have had to tell both health care practitioners AND my therapist several times that I haven’t had any particular trauma or emotional difficulty prior to my pain (what a strange way to have to advocate for myself!), which definitely tells me that it’s common and well-accepted that our emotional state can bring on pain just as much as pain can bring stress to our emotional state. #fearpaincycle
May 7, 2016 at 10:14 pm
Thanks for the link to the PDF!
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