Psychotherapy for chronic pain? It’s not an obvious connection to many who live with persistent aches, pangs, and cramps that defy all the usual medical explanations and interventions. To be fair, it’s not a connection a lot of therapists are making either. Using talk therapy to treat chronic pain is still a developing area of our field, and Maggie Phillips is among those leading the way.
Coauthor of Freedom from Pain, Maggie has found that Attachment Theory is a useful framework for understanding the unreleased trauma that often lies at the root of chronic pain. She describes four levels of unreleased trauma that can apply to chronic pain, including “trauma that predates the onset of the condition,” which is where attachment issues may come in.
That’s why Maggie starts her work with clients by asking about not only their present pain, but also their early attachment histories. For example, one of her clients—a 70-year-old man with severe chronic chest and gut pain—lived through a series of disconnections from his father, ex-wife, and daughter that led him to ignore the resulting emotional hurt. After uncovering some of his attachment trauma, Maggie decided to guide him through new experiences of relating to himself and his pain. One breathing exercise, demonstrated in this brief video clip, can be easily incorporated into treating any pain, trauma, anxiety, and attachment injuries.
Richard Simon, PhD, founded Psychotherapy Networker and served as the editor for more than 40 years. He received every major magazine industry honor, including the National Magazine Award. Rich passed away November 2020, and we honor his memory and contributions to the field every day.