Let’s me start by saying, if you suffer from psychosomatic pain for medically unexplained symptoms (MUS) your felt sense is still very valid! There is nothing to be dismissed as ‘is all in the mind’ or ‘you are making it up’ type of judgements.
MUS are extremely real and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.
Conditions such as chronic pain muscular or otherwise, insomnia, ME/ chronic fatigue, irritable bowel syndrome and many autoimmune dis-eases, irregular heartbeat, cardiovascular problems etc. are just phew of the ailments by which psychosomatic illness can manifest.
So read on to learn about MUS, and discover how to identify and stop psychosomatic discomfort from taking over your life.
Medically Unexplained Symptoms (MUS)
Medically unexplained symptoms (MUS) are highly prevalent in society and pose a burden both on patients and on health care.
“Patients with persistent MUS suffer from their symptoms, are functionally impaired, have a lower quality of life and are at risk of undergoing unnecessary and possibly harmful tests, referrals and treatments. Therefore, these symptoms pose a major burden on patients and society with large health care costs and costs of lost productivity. Patients are often dissatisfied with the medical care they receive. They report that they experience a lack of empathy and support, feel stigmatised and not taken seriously, and are worried because neither they nor their physicians understand where the symptoms come from.”
“General practitioners (GPs) often experience patients with MUS as difficult to manage. While many GPs consider MUS to be an expression of psychological distress, patients do not always see the connection between their symptoms and distress. GPs also experience problems in providing plausible explanations for the origin of the symptoms to their patients.
The mismatch between perceptions of GPs and patients as described above explains why patients with MUS are often dissatisfied with the medical care that they receive. Limited consultation time, lack of skills of the GP and patients’ resistance towards psychosocial attributions contribute to these difficulties.”
If you find yourself in and out of doctors appointments chasing investigation and tests results that keep coming out clear, you are certainly experiencing psychosomatic ailment. And even when actually diagnosed, some illnesses have psychosomatic origins.
What Is Psychosomatic Pain?
Understanding psychosomatic pain and discomfort
The International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) describe pain as “an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with or described in relation to real or potential tissue damage or associated with such damage,” “an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with existing or possible tissue damage or associated with such damage,” and “a protection mechanism”.
While Wikipedia’s definition of psychosomatic (or psychogenic) pain is: “physical pain that is caused, increased, or prolonged by mental, emotional, or behavioural factors”
In other words, psychosomatic pain is felt and experienced physically. And, while one may believe there is something physiologically and/or structurally wrong with them, its cause is actually deeply embedded in our emotions and thought processes and it can also be connected to unresolved trauma.
Trauma is a psychological wound that a person sustains and holds-on to, as a protection mechanisms. As Gabor Maté says “Trauma is the result of what happens inside you, as a result of the things that happened to you.” Trauma is not necessarily the event itself, but how the individual perceives the event and most importantly the internal dialogue created in relation to that event.
Trauma doesn’t live in the event, the event may well be gone. Trauma lives inside the mind-body-soul.
The good news is that, while the idea of facing it may feel overwhelming or doughty, it can in fact be empowering to know its force lies within. This means it can change.
It is related to the (often unconscious) story we make of the event; the significance we give to it, rather than the event itself. This is really good news because while we can’t change the event, we all have the potential to heal and reconnect to our authentic self, the self before it was traumatised/ scared/ pressured… by the event. The self that doesn’t need protection mechanisms in place to see the world through. The self with unlimited potential.
Somatic (from soma =‘the body’) bodyworkers work with the body and for the body to release trauma/ psychosomatic pain and create more freedom and connection within the self.
This has a ripple effect in all area of life and relationships.
Healing Psychosomatic Pain
Recognising that how we are living, or some aspects of our lives are not quite working or serving us.
If there is no recognition of it, healing cannot occur.
Denial or avoidance are protection mechanisms in place, an armour as such. They are obstacles to growth, change and overall wellbeing.
We must instead be in a space of recognising or acknowledging something is off.
Having a desire to uncover why. A daring attitude, a pull towards ‘more’ and wanting to understand, are in action. At this point there is a strong enough curiosity, need or frankly desperation sometimes, that makes us lean into the edge of what may feel uncomfortable. This space often holds vulnerabilities, and it’s the exact space to find our strengths.
As Brené Brown says in her Netflix Special ‘A Call to Courage’:
“Vulnerability, yeah! It’s totally the centre of shame, scarcity, fear, anxiety, uncertainty, but it’s also the birth place of love, belonging and joy”
Courage and vulnerability are the same thing.
Engage in somatic coaching pain healing, somatic bodywork or somatic experiencing as a way to treat the cause and not the symptoms, working directly with the emotions and reactions linked to the pain itself. Most often then not, there are (unconscious) conditioned behavioural patterns that keep the pain cycle alive. For example if one reacts with fear, anxiety, frustration and helplessness, they are strengthening neural connections responsible for it.
(Please note, each case study in one individual to whom I refer as ‘they’ to be gender neutral and maintain confidentiality)
Client story A:
Client experiencing musculoskeletal pains, especially on arms, hands and feet. With effects reducing the ability to do day-to-day tasks.
Done lots of medical test, including to check on inflammation of the joints, arthritis, lack of vitamins and minerals etc., and all was clear and regular.
Doing sessions of somatic work for psychosomatic pain, the client discovered an unconscious narrative that made them believe they were weak and fragile. This in turns made them behave in ways that were undermining of the strength and wellness actually present. The body was simply adapting and responding to an internal (unconscious) dialogue.
Once the awareness was there the client was able to engage with their body in different ways, and soon started feeling stronger. Feeling stronger meant they were in a space of mind and, motivated enough, to exercise more. This in turns lead to feeling even stronger and healthier and soon enough the pains were significantly reduced.
The client also made a connection of how their arms were the part of their body they felt as symbolising autonomy and self-power. The power of actually doing things autonomously with the use of arms. And the feet the ability to balance body weight and metaphorically balance ‘the pressure of life’. And was ecstatic to experience the pain went away as soon as they took this power back and discovered new ways of feeling resilient in life through experiencing and practicing balancing in challenging poses.
Client Story B:
Client having panic attacks and anticipation anxiety. We approached the somatic coaching for psychosomatic illness sessions at an initial slow pace. It included lots of boundaries setting creating a safe enough space for client to eventually do some experiencing in. From client deciding what’s in the space and where, to distance games exploring what distance of relating (in this case with me as the coach) the client feel safer in and, at what exact position in relations to her body; e.g left, right, front, three quarters. This was in itself a discovery for the client who realised she can gain or lose confidence in relation to where she in the space and how close or distant to others. A common trait in case of trauma.
We also worked with identifying their yes’s, no’s and maybe’s so they would always be in control of their experience by being able to recognise where they are in the scale of wanting or not wanting something and embody that choice.
At this point we established a relationship that meant we could work together for some time to re-discover the self before the trauma and the real value of the individual, letting their light shine birth. Which I am very glad they are doing now quite consistently with both travel project but also studies and major life event challenges that now the client is facing with much more resilience and strength. The anxiety is still present in same way, but it is not controlling their life any longer. What worked particularly well for this client was having a safe space to role-play scenarios to develop interception abilities, while maintaining the dual attention on what is going on externally also.
–Note. Before this work the client couldn’t perceive themselves when in the presence of someone else. You can imagine how destabilising this maybe. Even if the person is not aware of it happening, the nervous system will kick in to protect from such situations as it can potentially be threatening and enter a state of freeze response. In this freeze response we are not functioning. We cannot think rationally, nor be in touch with our instincts because we are in a state of fear.
As individuals we need the ability to feel ourselves in space and time, as well as how we are physically and emotionally at the same time of when we are interacting in social circumstances. The better ability we have to do so the easier it is to be socially active in a functional way-
In doing so it was also important for the client to develop their communication skills and voicing their needs instead of enduring situations for the benefit of others or simply to ‘not bother’ or supposedly disturb others.
-Note. Being a pleaser is a too often forgotten behaviour that puts a lot of unnecessary pressure on the individual pleasing while also misleading others on who they are. It basically doesn’t serve anyone.-
Learning to listen, perceive and serve the self (recognising personal needs, valuing and communicating them) this client was able to belong to themselves. This sense of belonging was very empowering and confidence boosting. This in turn meant the client could take on projects and achieve some of the things they wanted to do but was too anxious to even try. And eventually (over a period of 2 years) they also started to relate to others more easily. Ultimately, from not being quite able to leave their house, this client is now able to travel intercontinental flights which was a goal we specifically worked on during psychosomatic sessions.
Client Story C:
Client suffering from frozen shoulder, a painful progressive condition (3 stages) where the shoulder looses mobility until it is completely ‘stuck’ or frozen. Client being somewhat close to stage 2. Sometimes this condition develops as a result of impact or accident, but in this client case was no apparent incident.
Through sessions of somatic coaching for psychosomatic pain, the client had the space and opportunity to feel into the shoulder space, relating to it as if it was an entity informing them. They had the opportunity of exploring the internal emotional landscape of it, and soon enough discovered they had a much wider sense of ‘being stuck’ in their life.
While the awareness initially brought a deep sense of sadness and loss, working through it in a few sessions, the client experienced acceptance and surrender.
Surrendering to their own felt sense, as opposed to resisting it, made this client feel softer. They went on to present a softer self with other and ‘softening’ her behaviour in relationships too.’ In turn their softer presence seemed to have given permission to other people in the clients’ life, to be softer with them in return. This meant they experience more compassion and empathy and didn’t feel as much loneliness as they seemed to before the somatic work. There seem to have been a deep shift of connection and acceptance with the self and in turns with others. The emotions of sadness and loss were starting to be replaced with joy and connection. And just like that the shoulder got its free range of movement back to life.
Somatic Coaching and bodywork for Psychosomatic Pain
Somatic Coaching and bodywork for psychosomatic pain is a multi-component, tailored supportive intervention, aiming to empower the individual by facilitating self-enquiry and self discovery.
Through a coaching model, somatic bodywork can apply a variety of tools, appropriately picked according to the individual needs.
Each sessions is co-created and the client is in control of their choices and what experience they want to create for themselves in each given moment.
With the coach guidance, the aim is to design an enquiry that will facilitate self-discovery. See it as an experience that helps to gather more informations of patterns of behaviours thoughts or emotions, identifying triggers and responses, and reconnecting with strengths and one’s own intuitions etc… It is an holistic approach caring for mind-body & soul.
Because thoughts, memories, feelings, sensations are all interconnected and live within us. As mentioned earlier in this article, events not only live in the time frame of when they occurred, they consciously or unconsciously, live in the body until we carry it with us.
Exploring one’s own light and shadows sessions are co-creates to deepen the knowledge of where and how we carry those strengths and becoming more confident in them as well as uncovering possible blocks and release/reframe them.
In all scenarios, the aim of the work is to create a sense of confidence, resiliency, progression and expansion of the self. Give a sense of wholeness and wellbeing. It should feel like coming home to you.
Using various tools such as body focusing, clean language, relaxation techniques, mindfulness, quantum energy work, psycho-education; as well as playing with the elements of voice & sounds, movement, breathing and touch; the sessions give a personal space for safe and confidential self-enquiries which can help with the following:
- Deeply connecting to the self; experiencing what parts feels healthy and comfortable, what parts feels vulnerable and perhaps weak or painful and, what others feel courageous and confident.
- Safely connecting with your pain and exploring what it is doing for you.
- Uncovering the various physical, emotional and spiritual layers that makes you and be in total acceptance and belonging with yourself.
- Discovering and understanding your personal triggers so you can make sense of patters of behaviours protecting you. These can be recalibrated so that in future you are less reactive and more responsive. Offering quality of presence to yourself and others.
- Embracing and authentically owning the patter of behaviours that serves you and celebrating your strengths. Growing humble confidence in who you are.
- Support your understanding of the nervous system so you can up-regulate or down-regulate depending on your individual need at each given moment.
- Support with demanding life transitions and crisis, helping you to discern your feelings from that of others and build resilience in challenging situations.
These are just a few things I regularly help my clients with.
If you are interest in one-to-one somatic coaching and bodywork for psychosomatic pain please contact me for a confidential informal chat.