Dr. Maggie Phillips

How is Now Different From Any Other Time in Your Life?

How is Now Different From Any Other Time in Your Life?

One of the first things a careful clinician does is to take a thorough history of your pain--when it started, what happened to make it worse, your current diagnoses, what you know and believe about your pain, the medical options you’ve been given for treatment, and what has helped reduce your sense of pain.

You may not know that the real hope for reversing your pain condition can be found in your own past experiences as well as in your current attitudes and beliefs. When I listen to pain clients describe the history as described above, I listen closely for the ways they have propelled themselves forward as well as the obstacles that have derailed their progress. This information may be outside of their awareness and is important to consider at a full level of consciousness.

One way you might begin to explore these ideas is to ask yourself, “How is this time in my life different from all other times that have come before now? What made me consider the Reversing Chronic Pain learning program right now? Which part of me has been nudging me in this direction even though I’m not sure anything will work?” You may want to pause here, and spend a few minutes answering these questions honestly because the answers that come may well be a part of your biology of hope.

Now, I’d like to invite you to think about the different decisions you have made during the course of your pain. These may give you further clues about what has helped you to move forward in your recovery from pain and what may have held you back. Consider the following example.


Jerry began working with me to resolve his chronic back pain stemming from several herniated discs. Part of my preliminary evaluation involved asking him to make a list of the major decisions he had made related to his pain condition. He listed the following:

  1. My Dad and grandfather both had back problems. Growing up, I was really good at sports. I could have excelled in football, basketball, or soccer. Instead I played baseball because I thought I might not be as likely to hurt my back. I liked baseball but I didn’t really love it.

  2. When I had just graduated from college, I was riding with one of my fraternity buddies back home from a party. I didn’t know that my friend who was driving had had too much to drink. He lost control of the car and we rolled off the road. My friend was critically injured, and I suffered serious whiplash, which triggered a lot of neck and lower back pain. I went to a well known chiropractor, which helped a little bit, and tried acupuncture, which helped a little bit more, but not enough. I began to really feel scared that I was going to relive what had happened to my father and his father, who both became semi-invalids in their later lives. I kept going to see doctors, who all recommended something different. Finally, I found a physical therapist who himself had a back injury, and he gave me some excellent exercises to try. It was hard work, but finally I felt I had found something that I could do that made a difference.

  3. When I was in my 30’s, I pulled my hamstring when I slipped and fell playing coed softball. Even though I didn’t feel much pain afterward, my back started acting up again. I began to worry that I couldn’t/shouldn’t exercise or I’d make things worse. I stopped playing softball, I felt very depressed, and I started limping around feeling about 90 years old. My wife was upset that I felt so bad and was withdrawing from her. She wanted me to go see a therapist, but I felt so defective, I was afraid I’d feel worse. Finally, when it seemed like my marriage might be on the rocks, I did go to see a psychiatrist and started on antidepressants. I have to admit they helped me, the pain got better, and I became more active. Yet I never returned to the level of physical activity I had experienced before the injury. I still feel bad about that.

  4. By the time I was 40, I had been promoted to more of a desk job, where I spent long hours typing at my computer. I liked the work, but I started developing tendonitis in my wrists and arms and was afraid I would end up with carpal tunnel syndrome. The back pain returned, and I felt very depressed again. This time the antidepressants didn’t really help that much. I started going into a downward spiral. What saved me was a friend at work, who had been through similar problems. He talked to me about having a more positive attitude, and he checked in with me every day to see how I was doing. I guess the support really helped, because I finally pulled out of my slump. My company installed an ergonomically balanced computer table, and I went to the osteopath that my friend recommended, who was able to help me with both my arms and my back. My friend Dave also got me involved in a Big Brothers program; together we coached a basketball team for that group, and I began to feel better again.

  5. That brings us to the present time. I came to see you because I realized in the last few months that I was avoiding playing sports with my two sons in our backyard. They really love it but it seems to aggravate my back. I’m only 51 years old, and I don’t want to end up like my father, sitting in my recliner watching TV and not able to connect the way I want to with my boys.

When Jerry and I looked at these “stepping stones” that had brought him to his current decision to work with me, we were able to see several important patterns: a) His anxiety about repeating history had been present throughout his life and had never been treated; b) taking charge of his own health needs with the physical therapy exercises had really paid off; c) social support from his friend Dave had made all the difference at work; and d) structure really seemed to help Jerry in the form of the PT exercises and the Big Brothers program.

Once we identified these factors, we were able to construct a plan for using the Reversing Chronic Pain program that would meet his needs. I told him that the focus of his treatment right now needed to be self-treatment, where he would commit to working daily with the RCP tools that seemed to make the most positive difference in his pain levels in a structured, sequential way. Secondly, he would need to expand his base of social support, perhaps finding a men’s group where he could get encouragement for his desires to be an active Dad. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we decided to work on his conflicts about ending up like his male family members, as these worries might be likely to block our efforts.

Jerry was able to execute our plan to reduce his pain significantly (from an average rating of 8 out of 10 to a liveable 2-3). Even if your situation seems to be nothing like Jerry’s, you can still benefit from identifying your own stepping stones.

Stepping Stones Exercise

Take a few minutes now to type out or write down the 5-7 major decisions you have made related to your pain condition and its origins. Consider all types of pain, including emotional and physical pain, and follow this thread through your entire lifespan. Once you have listed these decision points, go back and consider how each has served as a “stepping stone” to lead you to your current place in life.  How has each served as a “stepping stone” for you? What patterns do you see? How can you use the RCP program to plan to address these issues? You might want to use the following format:

Each decision:
How it’s been a stepping stone:
What patterns of vulnerability and strength does it reveal?
How can you use these insights to begin the RCP learning program?

Why Try the RCP Online Program?

The Advantages of Alternative Treatment

The Biology of Hope

How is Now Different From Any Other Time in Your Life?

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