Last Monday I paid a visit to University College, Birmingham to watch a screening of the film “All the Rage”. The film explores the work of Dr John Sarno, rehabilitation physician and pioneer in the field of chronic pain.
You may remember a little while ago I wrote a blog about Dr Sarno’s pioneering work. His treatment program focussed on helping patients to become aware of the strong unconscious emotions driving their pain. Thousands of people benefitted from this approach and are now pain free. I’d recommend that you read my earlier blog for an overview of his methods: https://wordpress.com/post/theunigp2016.wordpress.com/59.
Dr Sarno has now retired from clinical practice and his colleagues in the US have continued to use and develop his approach to help patients heal. Here in the UK, Physiotherapist Georgie Oldfield established SIRPA (The Stress Illness Recovery Practitioners Association) http://www.sirpauk.com to support and train practitioners in Sarno’s approach.
The aim is to help those with chronic pain find relief and healing. The work of SIRPA complements western medicine in many ways but rather then using drugs to reduce symptoms, we work with words, helping our clients to become aware of and heal strong emotional conflicts.
Anyway back to “All the Rage” and why I’d strongly recommend you see it. The film has been 12 years in the making and was finally made possible through a very successful KickStarter campaign. Co-director Michael Galinsky was a patient of Dr Sarno and made a full recovery from chronic back pain. Michael’s father was cured of long-standing whiplash through reading one of Sarno’s books: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Mind-Body-Prescription-John-Sarno/dp/0446675156/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1497884164&sr=8-1&keywords=mind+body+prescription.
Despite his huge successes with patients, Dr Sarno’s approach was largely shunned by his medical colleagues and many of his patients were frustrated that his work was not getting the recognition it deserved.
Sarno treated many thousands of patients. Howard Stern and Larry David (the creator of Seinfeld) were two of his most famous ones and they both appear in the film. Howard talks of lying prostate in his studio immobilised with back pain. Larry’s story is similar. They are both now happily pain-free. Watching the film is a profoundly emotional experience and as an audience, we were instructed to just notice what was happening in our bodies emotionally as the scenes played out.
Dr Sarno remarks that most people with chronic pain will reject his approach but those who don’t and follow his advice tend to get better. Pain is simply the body’s distraction from unthinkable thoughts and emotions (rage) arising in the unconscious mind. Once we become aware of and accept the mind’s strategy, it simply stops doing it and the pain goes away. Around 5% of his patients have more deeply buried emotional conflicts and require psychotherapy. With dedication they too will get better.
One key message from the film is that we all experience physical pain from emotional conflicts from time to time. It is a universal human experience. To recover, we need to think emotionally. We need to become aware of how we are feeling. Obviously with any new symptom that is not resolving, we must have a medical evaluation to ensure that there isn’t a underlying disease process causing the pain. Once this has been ruled out, we are free to work emotionally.
Other factors that are important in recovery are self-compassion and this is modelled throughout the film. As Michael recovers from chronic back pain, he learns that it is normal to experience difficult thoughts and emotions from time to time. It is part and parcel of of what it means to be human. He learns to reconnect with his emotions and finally grieve the loss of his father several years before.
I’d highly recommend seeking out a showing of “All the Rage”. The film’s website can be found here: http://alltheragedoc.com and the corresponding Facebook page here: https://m.facebook.com/storyofpain/ You can apply to be a “screening champion” and and spread the word around your neighbourhood/clinic/ or workplace.