Psychotherapy Out of Bounds

PSYCHOTHERAPY Out of Bounds, continued
A Racked Back
Felicity can’t count the number of people he has seen with back pain. In almost every case, simple relaxation training relieved the pain, at least temporarily. The point is that almost all back pain is a result of self-protective muscle tension. That’s what supports chiropractic and a large part of massage therapy – the body’s defensive tension is temporarily altered and the person feels better for a while. But the pain returns when the person re-establishes the defensive muscle tension. In Felicity’s practice, if the defensive muscle tension is relieved, and then is perpetuated as a new habit by being connected to associated stimuli, the pain does not seem to recur. Consequently, if Wolpe’s systematic anxiety desensitization (RIT) was used, the back pain usually vanished for the remainder of Felicity’s contact.
But what of conditions such as degeneration of the vertebrae? Pierre had suffered from back pain for years. His physician had Xrays taken which showed that a couple of his vertebrae were severely degenerated. He assumed that this condition was permanent since bone substance had been lost. He therefore was extra careful with his back, ensuring that he never strained it by any heavy lifting or other hard work. Felicity could certainly understand the wish to avoid any work, heavy or otherwise.
But Pierre consulted Felicity on another matter. He had a phobia about flying. This posed a problem for him as he had a good deal of travelling to do associated with his work. He didn’t want to drive because that would mean sitting for long periods of time in one, rather tense, position. He wanted to feel comfortable flying to his various destinations.
Wolpe’s systematic desensitization (RIT) method was used to deal with his flying phobia. Pierre was taught the art of deep muscle relaxation. When he was deeply relaxed, he was asked to picture all sorts of scenes associated with flying. The scenes started with him at home thinking about phoning to arrange a flight, then phoning to arrange it, then packing for it, and then calling a taxi. He was asked to picture himself in the taxi at various distances from home on the way to the airport. He was asked to picture arriving at the airport, checking in at the flight counter, walking to the waiting room, waiting, and then boarding the plane. He was presented scenes in the plane involving finding his seat, sitting down, strapping himself in, looking around inside the plane, and looking out of the window at the airport activity. He pictured the plane moving out to the runway. Then he was asked to picture arriving at his destination, with the plane rolling up to the terminal, then landing, then approaching the field for a landing. Finally, he was asked to picture the original take-off, and various stages in the flight.
This long series of presentations took some thirty-five sessions. By the time he had learned to relax, he reported his back pain was gone. It remained absent. Toward the end of the treatment programme, he arranged to have another series of back X-rays taken because there had been no back pain for a long time. He was worried that the spinal degeneration had progressed to the point that he could no longer ‘feel’ the injury to his back. The X-rays showed that nearly all of the spinal degeneration was gone, and that the vertebrae were re-generating themselves. He had another X-ray some six months after the desensitization was completed, and there was no longer any degeneration visible. And he had remained free of pain throughout that period of time.
If pain remains longer than six months, it is not due to a physical injury, as such. Body tissues simply renew and regenerate themselves when that which is keeping them ‘injured’ is removed. In most cases, the thing that ‘keeps’ them that way is defensive or self-protective muscle tension.

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