Friday, February 17, 2012


“Societies like ours are structured technologically to deal with knowledge - it's what the Internet is great for, as TV, radio and print were before it. We're not as good at wisdom.” –Rick Salutin, The Toronto Star 2012-02-17

This week I am hoping for wisdom—a shared wisdom among those of us who try to help people with chronic pain, the wisdom to direct people in pain to the right treatment at the most opportune time. . Others are also thirsting for wisdom, though each of us travels the route that starts with our own area of expertise. Lately we have been asking and answering questions about our hope and strengths groups for people who have chronic pain. The answers, so far as we can give them, are—in a word--confusing.
Q: Do our groups cure chronic pain?
A: Not likely, but then, medical treatments don’t cure it either. That’s what makes it classify as cronic.
Q: Do our groups reduce the pain?
A: In some cases we notice that people who are showing visible signs of pain in session 1 are showing fewer visible signs in session 3. More than that we cannot say. What we do know is that people report receiving benefit from attending.
Q: What pain-reducing strategies are you using?
A: We introduce some relaxation exercise, and facilitate the sharing of information among the group members. Above all, we emphasize that we are hope specialists, not treaters of pain. Most of our efforts are directed toward creating an environment where hope and other positive emotions have an opportunity to flourish. That is the work that sets our groups apart. We use our knowledge to help people gain a sense of themselves as people who have hope, people who have strengths.
Q: Why do you bother with that?
A: Because it’s hard to feel good about anything, it’s hard to laugh, it’s hard to go out, it’s hard to seek the best help, it’s hard to feel confident when you are dealing with the combination of chronic pain and the difficult things that happen to people who have chronic pain. People with chronic pain get frustrated. They get tired of trying. They get angry. Hope and other positive emotions help with all these things.

As I write this, I am aware that thousands of Albertans with chronic pain—having begun at the office of their family physician--are referred to pain specialists. Their referral is handled in a central system that keeps them on a waiting list for more than a year, always hoping that the next doctor will stop the pain. They are on a journey. Who can say for sure what any of them might do differently along the way if they had a good laugh, or an opportunity to tell stories about their strengths, or choose pictures for a hope collage? Who can say for sure what effect any of this might have on the ability of a body to make the most of the medicines the doctors offer?
All of us—helpers and sufferers alike, hope for an end to the suffering. And in thinking about the sufferers I know, I wonder how we can take the information that we have, and generate the wisdom to offer the right treatment to the right people at the most opportune time.

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