What is the Role of Physical Pain?
We all experience physical pain at one time or another in our lives. Why is it an important part of our experience? What does it do for us? Pain is very important for letting us know that we are injured and it is instrumental in keeping us from doing anything else that would injure us more. If you touch a hot frying pan and feel your hand burn, you pull away instantly. You will most likely not touch the hot frying pan again without a mitt or something protective on your hand. Physical pain warns us that something is wrong and must be taken care of. The pain reflex is a response that prevents further injury and can even save our life. This is a response that is a genetic trait, passed down from generation to generation. As uncomfortable as it is, we need physical pain for our protection.
Most people do all they can to get control of pain, especially chronic pain because it impacts their lives and activities. However, not everyone experiences physical pain in exactly the same way. People have greater or lesser pain tolerance. There may be emotional connections to pain that worsen the experience. How you experience pain can be influenced by your mood, fears, expectations and /or past experiences. Of course, one cannot underestimate the role of the neurological component of the experience of pain.
Neuropathic pain is the kind of discomfort which is caused by damage to any part of the nervous system. This kind of injury can result in sensations like tingling, electrical shocks, or pins and needles.
There’s also phantom pain, which is pain felt in a body part that has been amputated, or from a limb which is no longer transmitting signals to the brain.
The duration of pain, which includes chronic pain, is a very important part of the experience. We have a complex system that creates the pain experience. We have our nerve fibers, pain receptors, the spinal column and the brain that interprets the experience. When you injure yourself, by twisting an ankle, for example, this sets the injury response into action. The function of the pain receptors is to continue to sense that an injury has occurred and to remind you of it so that you will do whatever is needed to help it heal. Therefore, the nerve fibers are specialized enough to recognize an ongoing injury that is in the process of healing.
When pain remains untreated or incorrectly treated, it can lead to anxiety, depression and sometimes feelings of hopelessness, especially in older adults. For people who do not want to have to take medications for pain relief, hypnosis can be a very effective alternative.
Ericksonian Hypnosis for Pain Relief and Management
Hypnosis in one form or another has been around for thousands of years, even if it was not called hypnosis. Utilizing Ericksonian hypnotherapy for pain relief has become an increasingly acceptable therapeutic intervention for a variety of health care providers. Today, many clinicians around the world use hypnosis to help manage the pain and discomfort of childbirth, surgery, chemotherapy, dental work and injury. Hypnotherapy can be used to promote healing after an operation and can even decrease bleeding. This approach is also helpful in easing discomfort during chemotherapy treatments. Hypnotic interventions for chronic pain can result in a significant reduction in the perception of pain which may have a long lasting effect, especially if the person also practices self-hypnosis. Along with pain relief, hypnosis is helpful in reducing anxiety, improving a person’s ability to sleep, and generally promoting positive changes in the person’s quality of life.
When a person experiences a hypnotic trance state, the conscious part of the mind quiets down as the person focuses on an increasing feeling of relaxation. It then becomes easier to concentrate and focus on feelings and experiences that increase comfort. It changes the experience of pain, almost as if the channels of communication between the source of the discomfort and the experience of it becomes quieted. A person who is in a hypnotic trance state, may experience physiologic changes as well, such as a slowing of the pulse and respiration, and an increase in alpha brain waves. The person can also become more receptive to specific suggestions that reduce pain. The therapist reinforces the helpful experience by utilizing post-hypnotic suggestions which are meant to continue the inner work into the future .
There are many different ways a person can use hypnosis to manage and control pain at home. Self-hypnosis is very effective when practiced every day. Listening to a recording specifically for pain can lead to much greater comfort. This enables the person to experience greater comfort even with a history of chronic pain.
Brigitte E. Lifschitz, LCSW
Past President and Former Co-Director of Hypnosis Training at the
New York Milton H. Erickson Society for Psychotherapy and Hypnosis (NYSEPH).
EMDR Levels 1&2.
Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT)