How Compassion Focused Therapy Helps To Ease Pain

How Compassion Focused Therapy Helps To Ease Pain

Due to the complexity of this disease, it’s essential to note the importance of compassion focused therapy and other alternative therapies to ease chronic pain.

It is not possible to adequately frame chronic pain as a health condition within the context of biology. There is more to chronic pain than the misfiring of nerves, genetics, or inflammation. Chronic pain is affected by and directly affects your thoughts and feelings, and your standing in society. There are several forces shifting due to one condition – and several causes contributing to that condition.

By inspecting and treating chronic pain as a condition that affects a person physically, mentally, and socially, medical professionals can provide a more comprehensive and effective form of care, producing better and more long-lasting results than medication, or treatments that purely explore the physical aspect of pain.

Compassion focused therapy is one of these treatments, exploring how something as simple and yet integral as compassion can provide real quantitative and substantial value to patients struggling with chronic pain.

Compassion from a Medical Perspective

You can describe compassion as being understanding in the face of suffering, both towards yourself and others. It means being caring. And within the context of the doctor-patient relationship, the concept of compassion has always been integral to maintaining a sense of trust and safety.

But compassion can also be a tool towards achieving better results in medicine. From a scientific standpoint, compassion is a concept innate to humans, and perhaps other mammals as well.

It stems from an evolutionary purpose of caring for others and oneself. Dr. Paul Gilbert, founder of compassion focused therapy, posits that compassion itself originates from the concepts of bonding and prosocial behavior, behavior we are naturally drawn to as part of our survival instinct.

Nurturing and caring behavior from one person to another triggers the release of oxytocin in the brain. Oxytocin, also known as the neurotransmitter of love, relaxes and soothes the mind. This begins at an early age, from the moment a mother and child first make contact.

Fostering and repeating these moments of compassion builds a series of connections to the concept and virtue of compassion – to be compassionate, someone must receive compassion, and thoroughly understand what it means to be caring towards oneself before they can truly care for others.

Compassion and Pain

With time, properly nurtured individuals can soothe themselves through hardships and stressful experiences, developing positive coping mechanisms that allow them to adapt to difficult situations and maintain a positive outlook without feelings of anxiety and shame.

Interpreted in the context of chronic pain, promoting compassion both from the point of view of the caregiver and the patient can prevent negative emotions such as shame, while promoting a constructive path forward.

As an example: someone with severe anxiety or self-doubt can benefit from a compassion focused therapy by exercising self-compassion through mindfulness, meditation and internal method-acting. They can imagine a voice outside of their own soothing them and providing compassionate words, at first perhaps from workbook, and later on from their own mind.

Concentrating on being compassionate towards themselves from outside their own perspective can give a patient a healthier, positive viewpoint. They can use breathing exercises and mindfulness to catch themselves in moments of anxiety, and step into the persona of their compassionate self to calm themselves down and reassess their situation from a more objective and logical point of view.

The Biopsychosocial Model

Compassion focused therapy is one of many examples of treatments that focus on conditions like chronic pain and approach them from a biopsychosocial viewpoint – considering the condition’s biological, psychological, and social factors.

Take fibromyalgia for example. While this is a physical condition, its main symptom is widespread pain. Research has shown that stress and pain – psychological issues – widely contribute to the possibility of struggling with fibromyalgia. A childhood filled with abuse can increase a person’s risk of fibromyalgia because of how the brain learns to handle stress and physical pain.

Aside from causing pain, fibromyalgia can be disabling. It can limit a person’s quality of life, especially early on, and common coexisting disorders include major depression.

The feeling of being a burden or incompetent due to the disease further increases the risk of developing psychological issues as a consequence of social factors. Compassion focused therapy can greatly reduce the debilitating effect of fibromyalgia, by addressing its core symptoms and providing solutions.

Not only does compassion have an effect on how pain is perceived, but a more positive outlook can reduce feelings of shame and depression and give patients the motivation to be productive in other ways.

Despite physical limitations, a combination of different treatments can effectively combat the pain and the fatigue and give a patient several hours a day to dedicate to useful hobbies, in the service of their own interests and to contribute to the household or the community.

The Medical Validity of Feelings

Emotion inhibits the reduction of pain. Depressive thoughts and sadness can negatively affect a person’s perception of pain, making it grow stronger. Something as simple as a positive frame of mind, on the other hand, can have a tangible effect on the perception of pain.

Compassion focused therapy, when combined with other treatments, can give a patient the frame of mind they need to live a good life in spite of chronic pain. With chronic pain, quality of life is a vital consideration.

However, perception has a lot to do with how good that quality of life is. By being too harsh on themselves due to the limitations they are experiencing as a result of their disease, patients can actually make their symptoms worse, and thereby worsen their ability to do anything at all.

Self-compassion, on the other hand, can unlock a person’s ability to perform and feel motivated even in the face of pain.

The Importance of Training for Compassion Focused Therapy

The doctor of the future does not only succeed by his or her skill with the scalpel or their knowledge of medicine, but by their ability to provide a compassionate and caring experience. Modern medicine will see an influx on possibilities through engineering and information technology – but the human aspect cannot adequately be replaced through technological innovation.

Compassion as a way to provide pain relief and combat negative emotion is important. Future medical professionals will have to specialize in not just an understanding of a patient’s biology, but of their psychology and the importance of a state of mind in treating a physical problem with dire mental consequences.

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