Here’s an online interview with my wife (and PoT blogger) Alison Bowles, conducted by Raymond Barrett of the Telehealth Certification Institute in Canandaigua, New York. Alison is a psychotherapist in private practice with an on-ground presence in Manhattan, and a developing online practice.
The interview focuses on an under-discussed issue in therapy–therapy with people suffering from chronic pain. We hear so much about the “opioid crisis” that we forget that it’s overshadowed—by a long shot–by a chronic pain crisis. There’s also a dangerous trend in mental health of pretending that chronic pain conditions can be managed and resolved by the magic of mindfulness and meditation. Though many studies suggest that such claims are nonsense, that hasn’t stopped the mindfulness gurus from making them:
Kabat-Zinn’s et al. (1986) described the process of pain reduction in his paper on mindfulness and meditation. The process of pain reduction occurred by “an attitude of detached observation toward a sensation when it becomes prominent in the field of awareness and to observe with similar detachment the accompanying but independent cognitive processes which lead to evaluation and labeling of the sensation as painful, as hurt.” Thus, by “uncoupling” the physical sensation, from the emotional and cognitive experience of pain, the patient is able to reduce the pain.
Stoicism with a vengeance: as far as mindfulness-based therapy is concerned, the key to dealing with pain is to stop feeling it. The way to stop feeling it is to pretend that it’s not there. And denial, I suppose, is the key to mental health as such.
Believe it or not, such claims are now standard in textbooks on mindfulness-based approaches to therapy. “The basic premise of ACT [Acceptance and Commitment Therapy] as applied to chronic pain is that while pain hurts, it is the struggle with pain that causes suffering” (Dahl & Lundgren, “Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in the Treatment of Chronic Pain,”p. 286). It sounds a lot like blaming the victim, but hey, the struggle is real.
I’m pleased to say that our cat Hugo makes a cameo appearance around 2:20, making a wordless pitch for animal-assisted therapy.