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The Edinburgh Alexander and Therapy Centre has been offering Alexander lessons and workshops since 1994.

Friday, 13 July 2012

Alexander Technique and Chronic Pain – New Research

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Following on from the recent research on Alexander Technique and chronic back pain, new research has been done on giving lessons to help people with pain management at an NHS Pain Clinic in England. While not a full clinical trial, the research evidence further supports the effectiveness of Alexander Technique in helping people with Chronic Pain.

The people who took part in the study, while self-selecting, reported improvements in their quality of life and an ability to reduce medication. The pupils who did best were those committed to self-management and therefore learning what they could from the six lessons they were given. The lead consultant commented on the effectiveness of the Alexander Technique as a ‘psychological’ intervention noting that the overall pain experienced remained constant while feelings of well being and quality of life improved.

The number of lessons involved means that it would be surprising if people whose pain was chronic experienced any reduction in pain. If that was going to happen, it would be expected to take many more lessons and for some people the reality is that chronic pain is just going to be part of their daily life. That does not mean, as this research demonstrates, that one can do nothing to help oneself; that one has to live an ever diminishing life – there is still always a choice.

That choice centres on where one places one’s attention.

The standard pain reaction involves a move from being aware of pain to directly attending to it. What happens in that move to attending to pain is that emergency response mechanisms get activated, the body tends to stiffen, and the meaning of the pain is sought in its implications for the immediate present and then the distant future. There is a psycho-physical response of our whole being.

Where pain is ongoing of course the habit of attending to the pain, looking for it becomes established. What every parent, with a small child in pain, knows of course is that it is important to distract the child, to encourage it to look elsewhere. So with Alexander Technique and looking at habits in relation to pain, and not just physical pain either.

The necessity is to learn to become conscious of where one is directing one’s attention, the nature of that attention and how consciously learning to direct attention elsewhere, in a manner where one’s breathing releases, deepens, changes things, produces feelings of well being, as well as establishing a sense of control as a new habit is established.

If Alexander Technique were solely concerned with distraction and the control of attention, it would not differ from other psychological approaches. What it adds is that in recognition of our embodiment, in its assumption that we are psycho-physical, it encourages people to develop control of their whole response, so that the postural mal-adaptions to chronic pain are lessened through the development of a manner of using one’s self that is optimal in terms of not just pyshco-physical functioning but of physical functioning and psychological functioning, as this research helps further establish.

Richard Casebow

Back in the mid-1980s, I started to suffer from severe sciatica that often made walking and working difficult. At the time, I was training in London to become a Chartered Accountant and I left, as I was spending increasing amounts of time off waiting for the pain to subside. Around this time, I also became depressed, as my prospects seemed to darken with little hope of a normal life. In seeking help I found my way both to a psychotherapist and then to an Alexander Technique teacher, both of which helped enormously. The therapy with forming a life plan and understanding myself, encouraged me to dream of the life I have now. The Alexander Technique gave me the practical tool to help realise it and to allow me to rehabilitate myself to lead a full normal life.

The link between Alexander Technique, Psychotherapy and the art of living intelligently became something that has fascinated me ever since and is something I have continued to explore myself and with pupils and clients since. This blog is my attempt to elucidate the links, as well as to talk about Alexander Technique pure and simple and the benefits of therapy.

I founded the Edinburgh Alexander and Therapy Centre in 1994, Counselling Conversations came later after I became a practising therapist in 2003. Professionally I act as the Treasurer of the Personal Construct Psychology Association and sit on the board of the UKCP’s house magazine The Psychotherapist. When I am not to be found working, there is nothing better I like to be doing than spending time on a Scottish hillside, exploring the arts or just spending time with friends and family, including the family cat.