Chronic pain and chronic health conditions are common. Somewhere between 11 – 40% of the population in the U.S. deal with chronic pain conditions according to the CDC. In his Go With That Magazine article, Gary Brothers, LCSW and expert on using EMDR therapy with clients dealing with chronic pain and health conditions has this to say on the issue: “If you treat adults, you are treating chronic pain and chronic health conditions.” Although we often think these conditions belong more in the ‘medical world’ not the ‘mental health world,’ we may need to reconsider. It is true that medical issues, accidents, or injury may lead to chronic pain and health conditions, but there are also causes rooted in our belief systems, lived experience and trauma memories. Our brains and bodies are intricately linked.
Chronic Pain Go With That Magazine Issue
We invited several authors to write about using EMDR therapy with chronic pain, chronic health issues, and to highlight the somatic experience of trauma in the Winter 2023 Go With That Magazine issue. We are sharing Schwartz’ article here, and EMDRIA members can access all other articles and issues in the Go With That Magazine.
Arielle Schwartz, Ph.D. EMDR and Somatic Psychology for Chronic Pain and Illness. “EMDR is the invitation for the client to cultivate attentional flexibility. During reprocessing of traumatic memories, clients are invited to focus on specific images, thoughts, emotions, and sensations that activate left hemisphere processing. However, they are invited to “trust the process” by attending to their experience with curiosity, broadening the attentional field to a more spacious perspective that invites right hemisphere processing. Throughout therapy, clients are invited to notice their present moment experience and report any new discoveries. The novelty is then integrated back into the left brain as the client is invited to discuss how this new information is relevant to the current circumstances and future goals.
Craig Penner, LMFT Integrating Somatic Psychotherapy with EMDR. “Resilience refers to the ability to stay in the present moment and be well-engaged in the face of difficult experiences. … Tracking resilience somatically reveals previously obscure information, including how and when clients gain and lose presence. Listening to the client’s words alone is not enough.”
Mark Grant, MA 10 EMDR Pain Protocol Variations. “When targeting present pain, the image may be constructed based on sensory descriptors (“If your pain had a size/shape/color, what would it be?”) and associated imagery (“Is there an image that goes with that?”) where there is no trauma. Additionally, clients who have never addressed their trauma (and may not be ready to) may even find it safer to focus on physical pain/MUS (medically unexplained symptoms) rather than painful dissociated memories.
Gary Brothers, LCSW Addressing Chronic Pain and Health Conditions. “Mental health problems do not exist in a vacuum. The idea of ‘the mind-body connection’ is a bit of a misnomer because the mind has never been disconnected or separate from the body to begin with. The mind is a full body experience complete with a simultaneous and integrated dynamic between cognition, emotion, and sensation. Of course, that’s how we set up EMDR targets to reprocess maladaptive and pathogenic information and memories. But when we get down to it, the mind involves different substructure of the brain, neural networks throughout the body, and even body systems constantly working together individually and collectively to create the overall experience we conceptualize as our mind. our bodies are integrated into this experience.”
SarahRose Hogan, LCSW-R Affirm Your Practice “EMDR treatment is reliant on clinicians’ attunement to their clients. It’s essential to keep your clients in their window of tolerance, provide cognitive interweaves as needed, assess for trauma targets, and foster the acquisition of adaptive information.”
If you’re an EMDRIA Member, be sure to check out our Chronic Pain Toolkit as well!
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