Welcome to your Vancouver Island Resource For Clinical Hypnosis, Stress-Recovery, and Pain Management
Addressing chronic physical and emotional pain and improving function through:
Clinical hypnosis in a medical setting
Counseling about Stress-related Illnesses
Need more information?
I share a focused practice in musculoskeletal pain management (mostly non-pharmacological) with my wife and partner, Dr. Jannice Bowler, and use clinical hypnosis and various counselling techniques to coach patients in ways they can relieve their own pain and distress.
There is nothing that gives me more satisfaction in medical practice than witnessing people achieve the change they desire, whether that be relief from chronic pain, emotional burdens, fears, unhelpful habits, or limiting beliefs.
The International Society for the Study of Pain (IASP) has defined pain as: “An unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage or described in terms of such damage.”
Let’s unpack that definition. To qualify as pain it needs to be unpleasant at least to some degree. It is perceived by the brain as arising from the senses (eg pinprick, pressure, heat or cold) and is associated with an emotional component. The relationship between pain and emotion runs both ways. The function of pain is as an alarm signal warning of actual or potential danger of damage to the body if the warning is not heeded. Sometimes pain persists long after the body has healed – we call that chronic pain – pain that has outlived its usefulness. Because all pain is processed in the brain it is possible for the brain to produce a perception of pain even when there is no sensory input from the rest of the body. One example is thalamic pain syndrome in which damage to an area of the brain that is the main switchboard for sensory input is affected by a stroke and produces a deep-seated unpleasant awareness of pain that appears to come from other parts of the body which are in fact not damaged. Another example is pain as a conditioned response – in the same way that Pavlov’s dogs would salivate at the sound of a bell because they had learned to associate the bell with food, so an experience or thought that reminds one in some way of an old pain may trigger that old physical feeling even when there is no new injury.
From the seventeenth to the early twentieth century the prevailing ‘specificity theory’ of how pain works, developed by Rene Descartes, taught that pain signals (eg from burned skin) traveled through the spinal cord to the brain and were there received as pain in direct proportion to the degree of damage that had occurred. More damage, more pain. But this did not explain experiences such as phantom limb pain.
Patients who have had an amputation and children born without a limb can sometimes experience pain apparently derived from the limb that is not there. Conversely, during the First World War it was often observed that severely wounded soldiers appeared to suffer no pain (at the time) as they were only too relieved to have survived.
In 1965 Melzack and Wall proposed the Gate Control Theory of Pain, postulating that there are ‘gates’ in the spinal cord that control the transmission of pain signals for there to the brain, and that signals from the brain can further open or close these ‘gates’.
This theory was further modified by Melzack in 1989-1990 as the Pain Neuromatrix, taking into consideration the complex factors – physical, social, emotional, and cognitive that affect the final perception of pain by the brain. Therapies such as Mirror Box therapy can often help to eliminate phantom limb pain by tricking the brain into seeing what looks like the absent limb (the remaining healthy one in a mirror) and experiencing it as pain-free. Some physiotherapists offer this.
Dr. Lorimer Mosely is a professor in Australia who lectures extensively on pain. He has also produced an excellent book “Explain Pain”.
Dr. Leora Kuttner is a child psychologist at Children’s Hospital in Vancouver and is a longstanding member of the Canadian Society of Clinical Hypnosis (BC Division). She has pioneered the use of hypnosis in pain management for children in hospital, particularly those undergoing chemotherapy or other procedures. Various mind-body techniques such as Cognitive Bevioural Therapy, meditation, mindfulness, and clinical hypnosis can modify the perception of pain, presumably by the brain reducing or eliminating the signals it receives.