In our recent visit with Cathryn Jakobson Ramin, she shared her insights about chronic pain from her own experience, and from her contact with thousands of readers who have shared their stories with her since the 2017 publication of her book, Crooked: Outwitting the Back Pain Industry and Getting on the Road to Recovery. She continues to seek out Feldenkrais® classes for herself, and she enthusiastically recommends the Feldenkrais Method® of somatic education. And, she thinks we can all benefit from expanding our understanding.
In Touch: What do you think Feldenkrais teachers need to know now about back pain generally in our culture, and specifically for their students?
CJR: Well, one thing is — I wish I wish there were more [teachers]. I wish they were in smaller towns and cities. I wish that when I went to look for one in a remote part of Nebraska, for example, that I could find one for someone. I can’t always.
So when you see a class member, you say how are you? And that person says, you know, really shitty. My boyfriend broke up with me; or my mother’s relentlessly ill and all I do is work and take care of her; or my kid is driving me nuts. These are giant factors in that person’s life, and they are obstacles to recovery for that person and if they’re not addressed, it’s very possible that that person is not going to get better. I’m having a hard time conveying that information to those who work mostly in the physical realm, and that’s it’s going to be crucial.
So I would say to Feldenkrais teachers, spend some time looking at — what are the aspects of cognitive behavioral therapy for chronic pain? Learn something about that. Go to a few go to some seminars. It doesn’t mean you have to be a psychologist when you come out. What it means is you have to be aware that this is a gigantic piece of the problem. When we say if someone is a pain in the ass. That is not an accident. You know for some people that legitimately is a pain in the ass and I’ve had people come to me and say, “Well my pain is right here,” and they’re pointing to a place in the right glute and I say, “So, who is he?”
I know that Moshe was very focused on the neurological aspects of what is going on. And in that way he was very ahead of his time. But being aware of the emotional underlayment of these problems is also of crucial importance. The more work I do in this area, the more readers that I talk to, I’m so aware of it, and it was certainly true for me. There is a major emotional component to chronic pain, and unfortunately people historically haven’t been trained that way. You’re either kind of a physical person or you’re a psychological person, but you’re not really comfortable doing both. I think that we need to move more in that direction.
The words that people use are really, really important. If they say that they’re being crippled, or they’re paralyzed. those are not only physical words. Some will say, “I’m in agony.” Interesting religious terminology. So I think it’s important to look at that, and also to explore, “What is this person’s relationship with suffering?”
Because there are people who feel that they only feel “good” when they have that kind of physical suffering that they feel righteous. So they can be real invested in it.
IT: It also points out the necessity for Feldenkrais teachers to have a robust professional network, so that if a client does need cognitive behavioral therapy, that there’s somebody in your acquaintance that you can make a referral to a competent professional.
CJR: That’s really important.
And so it stands to reason that if you, a Feldenkrais teacher, are someone’s “Back Whisperer,” you are going to need to ask those questions and understand what’s going on. We’re all human beings and just because you say to someone, “So, how’s life? What happens for you?” it doesn’t make you a psychologist. It makes you a human. You’re human. Yeah, simply just for a person to say, “Man, I am so sick of my stepmother. I cannot live with her another second.” I mean that kind of statement opens up a whole world for recovery because the acknowledging of the problem is extremely important. I don’t think we’re going to make much progress until we really address this on multiple levels.
Many people write to me and say [for example], “I see a trainer three times a week.” I’m doing acupuncture.” “I see a chiropractor.” “I do” this or that. And then, almost as an afterthought, — I got one of these just yesterday — they’ll say, “I’m very, very anxious and depressed and I am a single earner and I have a wife who doesn’t work, and I have a toddler. . .”
And I’m like, ah, yeah, Bingo, you know, you’re doing the exercise. You’ve got that component. You don’t like your job. I can hear that. And if you [as a Feldenkrais practitioner] don’t listen on those levels you’re going to miss something.
Learn more about Cathryn Jakobson Ramin on her website.
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