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Re-picturing Pain

Dr. Laurie writes about how choosing a different visual image to represent pain has dramatic results, both emotionally as well as physically.

A new study came across my desk this week. It is in a digest of psychological research put out by a British group, and the article described the effect of changing one’s visualization of pain.

Participants in the study were chosen because they experienced chronic pain.  For the research they were asked how they “saw” their pain. Most of them had negative physical images that arose and were quite powerful.

“After being interviewed about their baseline pain and their psychological state - including feelings of mental defeat, anxiety and depression - the participants were asked to select their most powerful and distressing pain-related mental image. "I see myself on all fours - like a dog but unable to move," said one. All participants spent time forming this "index image" in their mind before answering more questions about how they were feeling. Focusing on the unpleasant image increased pain and emotional distress. Remember, this is an image that the participants experienced spontaneously in their everyday lives (for nearly half of them, it came to mind several times a day).” http://www.researchdigest.org.uk/blogThe participants were then taught to “re-picture” their pain. They were asked to choose another visual image that could represent their pain. One individual saw himself at the beginning of a race, with the crowd cheering as he took off. The participants were asked to hold these mental images for several seconds, and then return to them.The results were fast and dramatic. Reported pain levels dropped, and participants felt better emotionally as well as physically.What does this suggest?Our minds hold some good medicine – as well as some potentially toxic images.

Take a moment and let yourself imagine your pain. Do you find more harmful pictures that flicker across your inner screen?Now do what these researchers did – distract yourself for a moment, as a way to “cleanse your inner palate”. Now re-script your pain. What is a positive image you could hold?Let yourself dwell on that positive picture. Feel it and allow yourself to be in that space.Now check in with your pain. What’s different?Research suggests that this is a process that can be – and needs to be – repeated frequently until the re-scripted image becomes the habit more than the old image and the feelings it holds.Check out the article to get a fuller description of the study, and then don’t just read about it. It only works if you try it!As always, let me know what you discover.

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