When we suffer from chronic pain, it affects almost every aspect of our lives. Not only can pain impact our ability to engage in activities and be present in our relationships, but it also affects our self-worth and identity in a way that impedes our daily functioning. This, in turn, can leave us feeling worthless, helpless, and blocked.
Dr. Samantha Gaies uses a combination of hypnosis, mindfulness, and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) to help people suffering from chronic pain reclaim their sense of self-worth and quality of life. Her approach focuses on helping people reduce their experience of chronic pain through hypnosis and mindfulness, while also using interpersonal exploration and ACT techniques to help people learn to live their lives to the fullest. These approaches help a person understand the relationship between chronic pain and anxiety and/or depression, which in turn, helps to break the vicious cycle between chronic pain and negative emotions.
Although people think of pain as being only a physical problem, the International Association for the Study of Pain defines pain as being both a physical/sensory experience, as well as an emotional/psychological experience. In other words, how a person thinks about pain actually impacts the body’s processing of the pain at the neural level, which is what creates that strong mind-body connection between pain and emotions. Therefore, learning techniques to better manage the experience of chronic pain actually begins with learning how to get in touch with and regulate thoughts and emotions.
This strong mind-body connection often leads to a vicious cycle between anxiety, depression and chronic pain. For example, as a person’s pain increases, he or she may begin to feel more depressed or anxious as a result of feeling limited in daily activities. Simple endeavors that used to bring happiness, satisfaction, and feelings of accomplishment begin to feel tedious, overwhelming, and simply “not worth it” anymore. A person’s lack of engagement and satisfaction in his or her own life then increases the physical experience of pain, which continues to feed feelings of hopelessness, uncertainty, and despair. This ultimately creates an ongoing cycle of chronic pain and emotional instability.
Research demonstrates that treating chronic pain is typically a combination of managing the condition, as well as engaging in therapy to address depression, anxiety, or emotional distress secondary to medical concerns. Dr. Gaies’s unique form of therapy addresses both a person’s experience of pain, as well as the ongoing cycle between chronic pain and negative thoughts and emotions. More specifically, individuals learn skills that will help them reach a higher state of relaxation, which is extremely helpful in regards to reducing the physical experience of chronic pain. This method not only minimizes the perception of pain, but also helps people reengage with activities and relationships, which allows them to live their lives more fully once again.