Pain is what the person says it is
This may sound obvious but I think that we need this to be loud and clear. There are still too many people who say that they feel that they are not believed when they describe their experience.
I started my career in healthcare in ’93 training to be a registered general nurse. My fascination with pain began in the theatre recovery rooms when I noticed how propel responded so differently. The ‘size’ of the operation did not seem to matter. How the person was, in other words their state, really did.
Studying pain, I came across a quote from McCaffery (1968). She stated that it was ‘…whatever the experiencing person says it is, existing whenever the experiencing person says it does.’
This has ever-stuck with me. Everyone behaves in such a way as to meet their needs. When a person describes their pain experience, these are not merely words. It is an expression of need. In chronic pain, we must ask why is pain a predominant feature of this person’s life? What are the needs that must be met for the suffering to ease?
To understand this, the person must be free to express their lived experience from the first person perspective. As clinicians and therapists, we can only gain insight through deep listening within a supportive, encouraging and compassionate environment.
Deep listening involves being present and paying full attention to the person. Not only do we hear their words but we see how they are embodied and delivered. Getting to know our own biases and beliefs allows us to let these go so that there is no ‘filter’, just pure awareness. This begins the therapeutic process.