A couple of days ago I attended a continuing education lecture at Quinnipiac College regarding approaches to chronic pain when treating patients. This one evening course was geared specifically toward physical therapists, and was presented by two male physical therapists who were relatively new to the field, and were involved in research because they were continuing to study toward their doctorate degrees. I left the course feeling refreshed and relieved about the climate of today’s research and college curriculum for health professionals. I am going to date myself here, but when I first finished my physical therapy degree at UCONN (wow Huskies!!) almost two full decades ago, we really were released into the field of health care as fixers. What I mean is that your worth as a PT was measured by your proficiency to manually fix orthopedic problems. We expected to be able to simply fix people, and in turn, patients simply expected us to be able to fix them. Well, I can tell you from firsthand experience that this mentality leads to burnout in a matter of a few short years, because a big percentage of the time, it just doesn’t work this way. Here is the truth that was plainly discussed in the course I attended the other night: in many, many cases of chronic pain (no matter what the original cause) there is no lingering tissue damage that can actually be “fixed”. The central nervous system is super adaptable and learns to perpetuate the original protective response of pain to ensure safety of the involved tissues until healing has occurred, but in many cases, this isn’t unlearned even though the original issue has resolved. We discussed this in detail, and how to begin helping people to deal with their pain story and change their responses to movement, emotions, and expectations. We dealt with the possibility of people maybe even getting mad about such a pain discussion and retorting “so you think this is all in my head??!!”. I raised my hand and offered that maybe in such cases we should come right out and be sure to teach that yes, all pain is in our head. Pain is a signal from the brain to pay attention to, or protect some part of ourselves, but that doesn’t mean that the need to protect that part is still valid. Helping people to deal with fear and rewire the responses of their nervous system is very holistic- we are talking about integrating mental and emotional work with physical approaches. I was ecstatic to see that young guys right out of school today are already thinking about this and incorporating it into their practices! This was not presented to me in school in any way. Now, I wouldn’t change any part of my educational history, mind you, for if I had not started burning out in the first five years of my career I would not have started seeking the education in energy healing, meditation and integrative health care that has led me to the unique, rewarding private practice that I am currently running today. However, I feel happy and hopeful for new graduate physical therapists and also for their patients. There is the hope that they will have a faster and better understanding of how healing truly happens, and that this will help their work to be rich, long-lived and full of deep and important connections with their clients. It is this type of work that lets the client-practitioner relationship thrive and feel successful on both ends. Please feel free to allow this space to be an open and supportive forum for any questions or concerns or insights that you may have regarding chronic pain. It is a huge and difficult issue, but also one in which no one should be alone. Thanks for hearing my words today- have an amazing day!