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On unsolicited advice, psychosomatic pain and healing.
It’s been several months since I sent this newsletter — in our last, I spoke about why a body-based approach worked for me. In this month’s newsletter I write about unsolicited advice, psychosomatic pain and healing.
There is not a single unwell person on this planet who hasn’t received unsolicited advice from a dear one. Whether you struggle with mental health, or have a chronic physical illness, the suggestions are endless.
Have you tried yoga? Have you gone for a walk? Do you exercise?
Everybody is suddenly a wellness guru and an expert on your life.
For people living with illness, this almost never lands the way the advice giver intends.
Instead it comes off as dismissive. Above all, chronically ill people want their pain to be listened to, and validated and understood, living with illness isn’t easy as is, so to be believed that their pain is real and will not vanish because they took a walk is hugely important to them.
A year ago, an orthopaedic surgeon told me that 80% of his prescriptions contain a psychiatric medication for idiopathic pain, i.e. pain for which the cause is unknown, meaning there is no test or imaging evidence showing inflammation or injury. We were just meeting as friends, but I recalled how seeing a pain specialist and being told your pain has no “known” source can feel especially discouraging.
The term psychosomatic, when used in common parlance, is another one often used to dismiss the reality of pain. I.e. “Nothing is wrong with her. It’s just psychosomatic.” There is this false idea that because there is no evidence, one must be making up their pain — probably for attention.
Our incessant advice giving and obsession with evidence is not just leaving people in pain, but also deeply wounded.
As a practitioner who has lived with chronic illness for most of my life, dealt with several misdiagnoses, and been at the receiving end of plenty of advice I didn’t ask for, I imagined what it would be like to create a space to reclaim the psychosomatic. A space for people to be believed, to explore mental health through the body and vice versa.
The truth is whether emotional or physical, pain is universal, and stored in the body.
I’m often asked what does working with the body mean? For those who have never tried an integrated approach, it can be hard to fathom what it looks like.
Working with the body means working with every person’s innate wisdom, and having a sense of intuition and allowing in the therapeutic space. In my own practise, emergence is the most important part — creating a bedrock of safety and presence that allows the body to tell you what is going on, trusting that what needs to come up in the present moment is relevant, being able to support what emerges.
Somatic work is not like going to a doctor, you can come with a list of symptoms if you want to, but even the most experienced somatic healers cannot tell you for sure if the pain in your hip is caused by grief, so working with the body involves a certain amount of participation, patience, intuition and willingness to explore.
Reclaiming the psychosomatic begins with accepting that pain exists first and foremost. It’s in itself a radical act. Regardless of the source, offering to listen deeply to ourselves and others with pain, is a step that opens up a channel for healing.
Walks, yoga and exercise are great I know, but I also know that those who confide in others with their pain, are usually asking for a different need to be met: support. If met with defensiveness when you offer your well-meaning advice, swallow your pride, and try empathy instead.
Mindful and Body offers one-on-one somatic counselling and group workshops and listening spaces that integrate mind and body.