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Mindfulness-based Pain Management

April 20, 2016

There are some areas of healthcare that allude adequate treatment and cure, leaving patients struggling to find relief. Chronic pain is one of them. Chronic pain affects 100 million people in the U.S. per year, reaching $630 billion in lost productivity and healthcare costs (Lu, 2015). As the population ages, dealing with aches and pains and managing the medications prescribed to treat pain’s debilitating symptoms, becomes a pressing concern to a growing sector of the population.

While pharmaceutical choices have been utilized to address some of the more acute pain experienced by patients, increasingly, alternative and integrative approaches to pain are being explored, researched, and implemented in hospitals, rehab facilities, and doctor’s offices across the country. Such integrative modalities as mindfulness-based interventions, yoga, tai chi and other movement practices, contemplative experiences, and immersion in writing, music and the visual arts are being introduced more frequently into patients’ treatment plans in a quest for effective pain management. According to Mindful Magazine, “Patients practicing deep relaxation through yoga and meditation had 43% less doctors visits.” Such statistics are providing the impetus to use alternative therapies for treating chronic pain. Some patients report that while actual physical aspects of their pain may not have abated completely, their relationship to the experience of the pain has changed. As mindful meditation teacher and author, Sharon Salzberg puts it, “We can’t avoid pain but we can transform our response to it.”

This session will look directly at the latest neuroscience of brain plasticity, and the potential to create behavior change through mindfulness training. The goal is for the brain to learn to fire in stress-resistant ways, rather than stress-reactive ways that lead to cortisol overproduction and stress related illness and disorders. The focus of the course will be on using mindfulness in chronic pain applications, for the purpose of pain management, and on understanding how mindfulness-based treatments can be applied to addiction related conditions.

My interest in using mindfulness for anxiety, depression, and other irritations and frustrations of daily life, dates back over 25 years. I was a producer for CNN in Washington, D.C., and running the Type-A marathon depicted in such films as, “Broadcast News,” and the TV show, “The Newsroom.” The life style was go-go-go, all the time. It felt chaotic to me, I was unsettled on a daily basis, and I needed to figure out how to relax in the midst of it all. After serendipitously meeting a neighbor, who I knew practiced mindfulness meditation, at a local luncheonette when both our children were home sick from school on the same day, I asked her to teach me about meditation. Before long, after practicing for a few months, I realized the value of mindfulness in getting a handle on living a life that felt more grounded, meaningful, and, thank goodness, quite a bit slowed down. I also found that mindfulness was perfectly suited to lessening the stress response I’d been warned to avoid in order to be healthy and live a long life. I felt a greater ease with everyday things. Despite challenges and obstacles, life seemed less overwhelming. Mindfulness, as a psychotherapeutic approach is gaining favor with clinicians and clients because it, similarly, works to calm the fight or flight response, and instead activate the parasympathetic nervous system where the relaxation response is accessible.

The Mindfulness-based Pain Management CE course will be experiential, with demonstrations and mindfulness practice sessions highlighting techniques applicable to pain management strategies. Mindfulness and pain management research will be surveyed. Discussion, breakout groups, and Q & A opportunities will enrich the course content and learning experience.

Attendees will (1) understand how brain structure and function affect human experience, (2) learn ways mindfulness techniques may neurologically rewire the brain to mediate pain experiences, modulate the stress response, and support self-compassion as an important aspect of pain management, and (3) process pain response mindfully while enhancing greater physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. Mindfulness-bases pain management skills and ways to incorporate them into daily living will be presented, demonstrated, and practiced, as applicable to clinical intervention as well as clinician self-care.

Dr. Rockwell’s workshop will be held Wednesday, May 4, 2016 from 6:00-9:15 PM at MiSPP.  This workshop has been approved by MCBAP for 3 contact hours specific to substance abuse.  It is recommended for health care professionals, particularly psychologists, counselors, social workers, and therapists who seek knowledge about integrative healthcare, approaches to dealing with pain management, including chronic pain.  It is appropriate for all levels of participants’ knowledge.  Click here to register or to find out more information.

DonnaRockwellDonna Rockwell, PsyD, LP is currently adjunct faculty at MiSPP.  She is a licensed clinical psychologist and mindfulness meditation teacher, with expertise developed over 20 years in Shambhala International meditation training and the Harvard University Continuing Education Program in Meditation and Psychotherapy.