Can you Live a Full Life with Pain?
Dr. Bronnie Lennox Thomspon shares her unique lens as a long term chronic pain patient, world renowned pain specialist and occupational therapist. She discusses how she integrates ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) into her personal life and practice as an occupational therapist. She and Cheryl explore how people can life a full life despite pain.
Cheryl & Bronnie are both occupational therapists who live with chronically painful conditions. In this episode, Bronnie shares her unique perspective on how one pursue a full life *despite* pain, rather than seeking solely to eliminate pain. This episode is a must listen for both patients and practitioners.
Dr. Bronnie Lennox Thompson is a pain specialist, clinical instructor, and occupational therapist who lives with chronic pain from fibromyalgia. She has a passion to help people experiencing chronic health problems achieve their potential. She has worked for 20 years in the field of chronic pain management, helping people develop “self management” skills. Bronnie completed her Masters in Psychology in 1999, and recently earned her Doctorate in Psychology in the mid 2010s.
Cheryl Crow has lived with rheumatoid arthritis for seventeen years and has been an occupational therapist for seven. After originally working in pediatrics, Cheryl formed the online education and empowerment company Arthritis Life to fill a need for accessible, engaging patient education and self-management resources.
This interview was conducted on May 17, 2020.
Links discussed in this episode:
Detailed episode breakdown:
- 02:12 – Bronnie’s definition of Occupational Therapy
- 05:10 – Occupational Therapy vs Physical Therapy for chronic illness
- 6:05 - How Bronnie got into working in the chronic pain space
- 07:05 – Exploring how the health professional’s job is not to “fix” the pain or fix the person
- 9:30 - Bronnie’s experience as a patient with Fibromyalgia and how ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) helps
- 10:50 – How Bronnie learned to live alongside her pain, rather than focusing on making pain go away
- 16:20 – Bronnie’s partner’s experiences with Ankylosing Spondylitis
- 19:27- Discussion of medications for inflammatory autoimmune conditions (rheumatoid arthritis & ankylosing spondylitis)
- 21:30 - Description of Bronnie’s Fibromyalgia symptoms
- 25:30 - Cheryl & Bronnie discuss what it’s like to be “Sleep divas”
- 27:12 – Discussion of sensory hypersensitivity and fibromyalgia
- 30:50 – The first time a doctor told Bronnie there is “nothing more I can do” about her pain, and why she’s grateful for that honesty
- 31:26: Lessons about Pain that Bronnie teaches to fifth year medical students
- 36:00 – Why is it better to seek “movement opportunities” than to push a one-size fits all exercise approach
- ·42:10 - Why does activity pacing and energy conservation not work for some people? Cheryl & Bronnie share notes on their lived experiences.
- 43:07 -Dr. Bonnie describes her 6 week group program that uses an ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) framework for people who’ve had chronic pain.
- 47:30 – Daily Activities of people with invisible illnesses and conditions (including pain)
- 50:25 - Why Bronnie’s has her participants set “missions” instead of goals
- 53:30 – The unique challenges and benefits of mindfulness for people who’ve had chronic pain
- 54:32 - Discussion of the “Choice Point” during behavior change
- 56:52 - How is sleep affected by chronic pain, and how can patients adapt?
- 1:00:05 - Who’s on the team of someone with chronic pain, and who’s the real expert on the patient’s daily life?
- 1:02:25 - Sex and intimacy with chronic pain
- 1:06:15 - Making a self-management plan: last step in her 6 week program. How to make the patient in the driver’s seat of their daily care.
- 1:07:00 - How to manage people’s unsolicited advice
- 1:09:00 - The benefits of a “Can do” card for the patient to carry with them after the intensive educational training
- 1:10:52 - Brief discussion of Cheryl’s experiences going through ACT-informed exposure therapy for claustrophobia-induced panic attacks, and how that relates to the experience of improving one’s ability to “sit with” discomfort.
- 1:13:50 - Reflections at the end of the 6 week program, exploration of how participants learn that their pain is something they can live with, and uncertainty is also something that can be tolerated.
- ·1:16:15 - Living a meaningful life with chronic pain and learning to let go of certainty
- 1:20:08 - What Bronnie’s 1:1 Occupational therapy sessions look like (as compared to her small group sessions).
- 1:22:30 - What Bronnie wishes she had been told earlier in her chronic pain journey
- 1:23:05 - What is wrong with waiting for pain to be gone before pursuing a full life? What can we gain by focusing on what’s possible *today* rather than waiting for a less painful tomorrow which might not come?
- 1:26:15 - Brief discussion of acceptance in the context of neurodiversity in addition to chronic pain.
- 1:28:30 - Discussion about some problems with social media groups.
- 1:29:35 - The importance of remembering how unique each person’s experience of pain is.
- 1:31:04 - Expectations versus reality: how it’s hard to calibrate expectations while living with chronic pain or chronic illness. What’s wrong with “problem solving” your chronic condition.
- 1:32:30 - Where you can find Bronnie!
- 1:34 - One more plug for ACT for OT!