By Robyn Greene, MFT
Andrea Bowen, MA, has had pain for 28 years. She doesn’t say where in her body she feels it, nor does she tell us how it began. What she does do is describe her journey of coming to terms with the pain and ultimately learning to accept, rather than fight it. She explains that after many years of going through pain, depression, drugs and surgery in hopes of ending the pain, it had instead taken over her life. She concluded she needed to develop a different relationship to it. So she began by redefining it. Because the thought of chronic pain itself can be overwhelming, she learned to take it “one day at a time,” affirming that the pain is a fact of life for today. And since it was going to be with her anyway, she might as well develop a more positive relationship with it. She notes she began responding to the pain, rather than reacting. “I stopped trying to control the pain. Instead, I was controlling my response to the pain.” And so over time, she notes, the pain has eased.
Andrea provides the listener with a booklet that explains the techniques used on the CD and encourages the listener to read it before using the CD. In both the booklet and CD, she describes her process of dealing with her pain frankly and honestly, making it easy for the listener with chronic pain to relate to her situation.
The CD itself is divided into different sections. The first part takes the listener through Andrea’s pain story where she explains how she began to change her awareness. Andrea then guides the listener through a general relaxation exercise. In the next sections she invites the listener to get to know their pain through mental imagery. In particular, she suggests becoming aware of the barrier around the pain. Following that she gradually takes the listener into the area of their pain and ultimately through it.
What’s especially helpful and original about her style is that she’s able to seamlessly interweave explanations while giving suggestions for relaxation. For example, while she is giving suggestions about letting go, she also explains how tension, even “minimum tension” is a large component of pain. She then utilizes the concept of minimum tension in the relaxation suggestions that follow. Another plus is that one can listen to any section of the CD, depending on one’s readiness to explore the pain and what might be needed that day. I also found Andrea’s voice to be gentle and soothing, though there are a few sections where she continues to talk when silence might have been more helpful. Another positive is that she emphasizes the importance of safety, instructing the listener not to listen to the CD while driving or doing similar activities!
The techniques that Andrea uses are not new. The knowledge that reframing one’s thoughts in a variety of ways can change one’s experience of pain is a cornerstone of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT has been an important tool in pain management for some time. What’s nice about the CD is that it can be used at home whenever needed, thus making help more available and user friendly for many people with pain.
To order a copy of the compact disc — The Art of Living with Chronic Pain by Andrea Bowen, MA, — for $24.95, including shipping, contact:
21 Maxwell Road
Weld, Maine 04285-9720
Robyn Greene, MFT, is a psychotherapist living with chronic pain.