17 October 2018
In chronic pain, the pain system is locked in to a high-alert mode.
One of my colleagues describes it as replacing your alarm system after a burglary, but with one so sensitive it goes off when a fly goes through the room. Mere touch may now be experienced as pain.
The pain is real, it isn’t “just in the head”, but nor is there a hidden injury to fix or illness that can be cured. It’s a system that needs retuning, and that calls for participation from the body itself.
According to a new paper in the Journal of Clinical Psychology one particularly promising way that psychologists can help with this is by encouraging self-compassion: a practice of recognising one’s own suffering, accepting this is part of a shared human experience, and not over-identifying with the suffering.