Ian Cleary

Physical or Psychological?

Is it physical or psychological – that is the question!

Well actually – It’s NOT the question. It hasn’t been for a while thanks to how we have moved on from our understanding of health. The division between conditions being physical (in the body) and real OR psychological (and somehow less real), never actually explained the human condition but we ran with that understanding for a few hundred years.

Now we have a much better understanding of health, which has opened up new and fresh treatment options for people struggling with their health. However most of us grew up with that old ‘physical vs psychological’ mindset, and it lingers in how we view health.

More importantly, the issue with the ‘physical vs psychological’ mindset, is that is limits options.

Because the LP looks at things like stress, thoughts, emotions and the role the brain plays in health, it was once assumed we thought conditons like fibromyalgia or ME/CFS were ‘all in the head’ and people were rightly angry that anyone could suggest this.

Luckily so much has changed from that dualistic view of health. We can now have much more meaningful and useful discussions by looking at health in a broader context.

This was a theme of a recent talk I gave on Chronic Pain. I’ll link to a recording at the end.

Your understanding of what the problem is determines your approach to solving it. Broadening your understanding broadens your options.

So for those who used to see anxiety as ‘all in the head’, they would pursue traditional psychotherapy on the assumption it was a ‘thinking problem’. Psychotherapy did have some success but so does yoga, exercise and breathing exercises. ‘All in the head?’ – Good luck trying to tell someone having a panick attack it’s all in their head. It’s a treatment limiting label.

The same applies to pain and fatigue conditions. Traditionally we saw them as purely physical so we would chase the physical cause. I call this the ‘Find it and Fix it’ model. While this also saw some successes most people in Chronic Pain were left managing their condition, rather than actually solving it.

In the last decade we have come to understand the role the brain plays in many conditions such as pain & fatigue. All pain and fatigue. Even if you break your leg and there is swelling and blood, modern pain science would say that the pain message is being generated neurologically (in the brain) to get your attention and protect you. Similarly, if a marathon runner runs their absolute best and collapses at the finish line – they have not run out of energy. The fatigue is partly being generated neurologically to protect the runner from using up all their biological energy store. You will often see a marathon runner, stand up then run a lap of honour. There’s still energy in the system.

So by being able to discuss pain and fatigue AND the brain, without the historic implications that this means ‘not real’ we have been able to make incredible progress in treating chronic illness.

This understanding has transformed treatment options. Now when cancer patients go through chemotherapy and are struck by crippling chemo fatigue and mental fatigue (chemo brain), we know this is not a running out of batteries but a neurological response to the process of undergoing cancer treatment. So in the past we would have seen fatigue as ‘no energy’ so suggested to ‘carefully managing their energy’ or ‘take it easy and rest’. Now we know this is detrimental advice and that moving the body through exercise is a better approach to this neurally generated fatigue.

By understanding the role the brain AND the body plays in states of pain, fatigue, fear and trauma, we open up treatment options. It does require us to think differently but that increases treatment options.

This was the subject of a recent lecture I gave in New Zealand last month. The lecture is not so much about my work with the Lightning Process, but highlights the change in focus that has occurred in the pain sciences. (I touch briefly on my work towards the end.) If you are suffering from chronic pain (or know someone suffering from chronic pain) it is so important to better understand the role the brain plays, as it instantly opens up options you may not have considered before.

Another thing that has changed significantly in the last decade, is the awareness of how the brain changes with ongoing experience – whether that expreince is learning an instrument, learning to juggle, practiced meditation or living with ongoing states of pain, fatigue, fear or stress. All these things change our brains.

This is why NEUROPLASTICITY is regarded as the greatest medical breakthrough in the last 400 years. NEUROPLASTICITY explains a mechanism how people get stuck in states of pain, fatigue, fear, sadness, guilt, stress AND also hints at the way out of those states.

As Norman Doidge, ‘the father of Neuroplasticity’ says, “It’s Neuroplasticity that got you into this mess, and it’s neuroplasticity that will get you out”.

That is what the Lightning Process is – a health focused training utilizing the brains ability to change back.

If you are interested in updates on modern pain science & neuroplasticity you can listen to my recent lecture “UCOL PUBLIC LECTURE SERIES – UNDERSTANDING PAIN & NEUROPLASTICITY.

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