Bresler Bresler
Imagery and Pain Control

by

David Bresler, Ph.D.





Symptomatic Techniques

Tell me about symptomatic techniques.

There are a lot of symptomatic imagery techniques. There are symptom suppression techniques, where you imagine inhaling a breath into the area that hurts...bringing healing and relaxation into the pain... and as you exhale, you just blow away right through the skin any tension or discomfort.

There are substitution techniques in which you can imagine having a migraine headache in your little finger as opposed to your head.

There's mind-controlled analgesia where people imagine three images. One is the pain at its worst...and you draw a picture of it. Another image is pain at its best. You're still hurting but tolerating it really well. The third image is the ideal model...what their life would be like if they had no pain at all. It's very interesting because you'll find that quite a few people won't be able to do the third picture. But the idea is to have them imagine these three images. When they're having pain, they learn to transform pain at its worst to pain at its best and then ultimately to the ideal model. And you talk to it.

Other symptomatic treatments include regression or progression. Go back in your mind to a time before the pain, or the trauma. Or go forward in time to a place where you are cured of your pain and it's no longer part of your life. Pain

While using these symptomatic techniques are you enhancing pain tolerance or blocking sensation?

Well, you try to do both. The point that I'm trying to make is that sometimes there's limitations to how much you can reduce pain sensation but there are never limitations in terms of what you can do to enhance tolerance. You can always do something to help people enhance their tolerance, and thus reduce their suffering.

Tell me more about symptom substitution.

To do symptom suppression, you're asking the nervous system to abandon a symptom that it's produced for a reason. Symptoms are generally not produced by the Martians, right?

Usually not.

Although once in awhile I wonder. Anyway, the symptom is being produced for a reason, so if you're asking the nervous system to give up the symptom, it may not be willing to do that. But when you do symptom substitution, you're not asking it to give it up. You're just asking the nervous system to change the pain in some way: change its location, its quality.

Let's take an example of a man with low back pain with radicular symptoms down his leg. I could suggest that he allow all the pain to go down to the bottom of his leg. As he walks around, he can leave little footprints of pain on the ground. It may change the quality or the intensity of the pain but itŐs still present.

There are space distortion techniques. Go in your mind's eye to a place where pain is not experienced. It's just not part of that world. There are also time distortion techniques, another form of symptom suppression, which can be especially useful with someone with catastrophic illness. You can tell them about the relativity of time and in the context of imagery they can imagine a clock so that when they're having pain, even though it may last minutes or hours, time moves so quickly it only seems like a minute or two.

Can you say more about the time distortion technique?

I do it interactively. I might say, "Go back in your imagination to a time when time moved so slowly for you, that it seemed like every second was an eternity. Describe that experience for me." Then you ask them to recall a time when they were having so much fun that time passed quickly. So they now have a symbol for both slow time and fast time. When they're in pain, we can ask them to imagine the experience in which time passed very quickly. This has a profound effect on the family also. They may ask, "Are you in pain?" and the patient says, "Yeah, but it only lasts a second or two."

So you see we have a great number and variety of imagery techniques to help alleviate pain...to decrease pain sensation and enhance pain tolerance.

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