Sunday, September 04, 2011

About treatment boundaries

Yesterday, I commented about treatment boundaries in this post. I want to elaborate. I want to explain how explaining pain to a patient can be woven straight into the constructing a safe psychological, social, therapeutic container to work within, while utilizing physical contact.

Guys, especially, seem very reluctant to take on gentle manual therapy. They are concerned they could be misinterpreted. (Maybe this is why they seem to head off in large droves toward ortho and other structural, manipulative technical approaches and away from physiological change approaches - they don't want their physical contact to be misunderstood.)
I say, then, make the situation be completely transparent. Ask for and get permission every step of the way. 

Let's say you had a patient with some kind of pain problem. Let's make you a guy, and the patient female. Let's make her a tough case: anxious, known drug user/abuser. Chances are, you are scared of using gentle manual therapy. You worry that she might cling, rapidly become dependent.

You can avoid any danger of creating dependency by setting a simple but firm treatment boundary: Something like:

"We could try to help the part of the brain that is making the pain figure out a way to stop. I'd like to try some hands-on work, if that would be OK with you. (Pause and wait for an indication the patient is interested.)

"It may help, although I wouldn't know for sure, without us trying it first - it helps most people in a pretty straightforward way; what I am sure about is that if it we do a few sessions and it hasn't helped yet (changed the pain significantly right away, so that it is less severe, less bothersome, less frequent, stays away for longer periods of time, one of those things or some combination of those things) then it wouldn't be worth pursuing further. 
"I'm saying, it's something we could try, and see what happens, and if it doesn't help, we haven't really lost anything by trying. So, what do you think? Would you be interested in seeing if it could help your brain to stop giving you this foot (or back, or leg, or arm) pain?" (Pause and wait for an indication the patient is interested)
The next set of treatment boundaries involves explaining the patient's nervous system and how it mounts a pain presentation. This does a number of things:
1. It explains pain to the cognitive part of the patient's brain, which will give her the idea that you consider her worthy of learning it and capable of understanding it (respect).

2. It creates a conceptualization that "she" is something apart from the rest of her own brain, that you would ask for her cooperation in helping you, so that together, you (plural) can detach from the pain, watch the nervous system (with minimal input from you) solve the "problem" which is something in the rest of the nervous system (recruitment of patient's cooperation, mostly her dorsolateral prefrontal cortex).

3. It also gives her non-conscious brain time to mount reward expectation mechanisms and dopamine (if she has any of her own left), all that anticipation stuff. This wouldn't be a bad place to reassure her that you aren't going to hurt her with your handling, that you want her to tell you if anything you do, any grip, feels uncomfortable to her, because you aren't in there and can't feel her nervous system the way she can, and you certainly can't feel her pain experience, only its manifestations. So you are relying on her to help. You don't think it's prudent to have her nervous system, which is a learning machine, learning to have to deal with more pain, associated with you - your job, as you see it, is to help it learn how to feel less pain.(You are assigning her a job, a role, and indicating that she has locus of control over your handling, are giving her veto control over it, and therefore over all your physical contact with her.)
The third set of treatment boundaries involves explaining the actual physical contact, what position you would like her to lie down in, what you are going to touch, how you are going to land, then what you're going to do once you've landed, what she can expect, what you'd like her to pay attention to, to breath, etc. Then before you actually touch her, ask her permission one more time.

These are little things, mostly good manners, but they add up into setting a treatment relationship/contract that is OK for either of you to walk away from at any time. It's egalitarian and fair. It should not give her any opening to become a cling-on.  It permits the dance between nervous systems to develop to the point of helping the patient get out of the way such that his or her nervous system can resolve its problem, can fix itself, all the while, as you provide it with clear, boundaried messages and feedback, both verbal and kinesthetic, and ask for the same from the patient.

You have the right to end the (manual) treatment relationship if you sense it's not helping, and she knows from what you've said, that she has to carry a lot of responsibility for any success, and her nervous system carries the rest; if she doesn't get this, then I'd recommend stop manually treating her and move to other management methods.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

What we don't even know that we don't know


LINK ->>>  What Do We Know For Sure, Really? (For therapists)

The blog post is by Alice Sanvito, at, a thoughtful massage therapist, interviewed lately by Will Stewart (who calls himself thrill96) on his blog-radio show:  Russian Massage and Neuroscience: Interview w/ Alice Sanvito.

Alice is somebody who isn't afraid to change, who isn't afraid to think about things a bit differently, who isn't afraid of the unknown or of uncertainty. It's a rare quality in a manual therapist - most want to convey the impression that they are experts. Much of the time, I imagine, a patient can feel a level of expertise through their own somatosensory afferent system. If the attitude and the handling don't match, I think it's better that the handling be "expert" rather than the claim.

What constitutes "expert" handling? Well, every nervous system is different. Every pain problem is as unique as the person's fingerprints. So, rather than claiming some sort of "expertise" in some technique or other, i.e., a set of cookbook approaches learned at a class, it's way better to stay humble, let treatment be at the pace of the nervous system with which one's own is interacting, let treatment be more about exploring than performing, watch for settling, watch for deepening of breathing, watch for long periods of silence, encourage the same without being dominating. One lets processes occur until they stop. These are easy to feel through sensitive aware handling - warming, softening, sense of lengthening, pulsing, etc. All these indicate nervous system corrections. Let the patient become fascinated with feeling their own body's life. Let them describe what they can sense. Much of it will be a surprise to them. Give them room to enjoy new afferent experiencing, the feelings that arise when nervous systems self-correct in response to the most minimal and non-invasive input you can manage. 

How does one become "expert" at handling another's nervous system? One learns manners, and boundaries, remembering to "ask permission", not just verbally but also kinesthetically. One maintains these throughout the entire therapeutic encounter. One adapts, matches oneself to the patient. Something as simple as learning to separate one's own breathing from one's own contact with the patient can buffer a lot of unintentional "noise" from a nervous system that is sensitive. This means, literally being aware of your own breath and controlling it, or resting elbows somehow so that breathing motion doesn't travel all the way down your arms to the patient's body. Little things like that. 

Thank you, Alice Sanvito, for being a fellow traveler in the world of deepening into whatever it is we do. I don't think we can, or ever will, know anything for sure, because manual therapy is a verb, in the moment, not a noun, ever, in spite of how many conceptualizations are dreamed up to try to package it or analyze it or measure it scientifically. One thing is for sure, though: we cannot "touch" (directly) anything but the nervous system, as represented in the skin. All the rest is stuff we make up, an "as if" story.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Understanding Pain and what to do about it in less than 5 minutes.

GREAT little video on YouTube - Understanding Pain and What to do about it in less than 5 minutes. on Facebook posted by Sandy Hilton, PT and Noigroup.

"We now know that pain is 100% produced by the brain!"

Unfortunately I can't embed it, can't find the code anywhere. So click on the link to see it on YouTube - well worth the minor effort. ---> LINK