Category Archives: Patient Education / Self-Care

October 8, 2015

Dan Siegel says I can use my mind to reshape my brain — or YOURS!

I’m in the middle of taking an on-line course by Daniel Siegel, MD.  I hope you do, too.   It’s called “Practicing Mindsight” — 6 hours consisting of 32 video mini-lectures delivered live to an audience of about 240 mental health professionals, physicians, educators, as well as organizational behavior and social policy wonks.   (I’ve also  heard a great TED talk by this guy).  He’s a famous psychiatrist, trained at Harvard Medical School and UCLA, now clinical professor of psychiatry at UCLA, an award-winning educator – and expert researcher in the emerging field of “interpersonal neurobiology”.

It’s on a website called www.Udemy.com.  I’ve listened to the first 9 mini-lectures so far.  He began by asking how many of the professionals in the audience think the mind is important in everyday affairs — and in their practices/organizations.  All hands went up.  Then he asked how many had any instruction on what the mind is?   Five percent raised their hands.   He says that the proportion has been similar in 85,000 professionals he has asked.   He  says the purpose of the course is:  How to see the mind and make it stronger.    I say the course is focused on STRATEGIES for changing the STRUCTURE of the brain (one’s own and that of one’s patients/clients) by using the mind.   Think of that:  USING the mind as a tool to INTENTIONALLY remodel circuits in the brain.

Here are three big points I have heard in his lectures so far:

(a) Key definition:   The mind is a PROCESS not a thing.  It REGULATES (monitors and directs) the flow of energy and information both within an individual and between people.  (Energy is roughly defined as stuff that makes things happen.  Information is both data and meaning or story.)  As part of his grant-funded work, he had put together a group of 40 researchers in a wide variety of fields who were all (eventually) able to agree on this definition.

(b) “Attention” – which is where the mind focuses, what it is paying attention to  – is what CREATES new neural pathways, and STRENGTHENS either existing or new ones by reinforcing the pathway.  As the saying goes: “neurons that fire together wire together”.  For example, the more we pay attention to our pain (assessing it, worrying about it, “fighting” it), the deeper we are carving that channel.  Common sense, grandmothers, and “New Agers” have been telling us for years to focus on what we DO want instead of what we DON’T want  — and now science is confirming it.

(c) Humans are genetically programmed to AUTOMATICALLY create internal experiences and capabilities that mirror or incorporate things they see or feel during interactions with others.  As we watch someone else raise a glass of water to his lips, the cells in our brains that move our own arms light up.  We sense his intention to drink, we may experience thirst, or the sensation of water or of refreshment.  We feel sad when someone cries, and are happy at their joy.  Others’ brains shape what goes on in ours —  what circuits are firing and being reinforced — and vice versa.  Simultaneous mutual (interpersonal) experience is a KEY part of the “social” in our “social species”.

So I got this:  The techniques we use to SHIFT our attention (or another person’s attention) away from bad stuff and towards more productive ways of thinking are actually MODULATING neural circuitry in the brain (which is neuroplasticity in action).  This has now been confirmed by rigorous research on techniques such as mindfulness, CBT, etc.   (I personally remember reading a study which showed that SIMILAR changes in the brain can be observed after either medication OR “talk therapy”.  In that TED talk by Siegel that I watched, he asserts that much of the circuitry in our frontal lobe is created and shaped by everyday INTERPERSONAL INTERACTIONS which DEVELOP it – and of course it is our frontal lobes which make us uniquely human.)

The takeaway for us as physicians in tangible organ-system-focused specialties is there is POWER TO HEAL in our words —  and in the human quality of our interpersonal interactions.  We have an opportunity to INTENTIONALLY HARNESS that power and explicitly add it to our therapeutic armamentarium.

Although the mental health professions already are aware of the power of words and relationships, physicians are on the front-line dealing with patients with PHYSICAL complaints and distress.  We are in the best position to use the power of words and relationships to start relieving those symptoms and easing that distress — even if all we do is alert the patient to the healing power of the mind and persuade them to accept help from a mental health professional.  Apparently, the only specialty these days that requires training in patient communication is family practice.  Thus, this appears to be a neglected skill area in all of the other medical specialties.

Those of us who have accepted the idea that sickness and disability are the COMBINED product of bio-psycho-socio-economic factors, and who are setting out to reduce the disruptive/destructive impact of injury/illness on quality of the patient’s everyday life and future – especially in at risk cases and “heartsink patients” — MUST master this stuff.  We need to practice the SCIENTIFIC ART of empathic therapeutic interaction.  We must learn how to effectively redirect the patient’s attention into more appropriate channels so they develop their own capability to adapt to / cope effectively with their own situations.

The tuition for the Siegel Practicing Mindsight course is usually $137, but if you follow the directions below, you may be able to get a $39 special rate.  It supposedly ends TODAY — although it supposedly ended yesterday, too.  Some people don’t seem to be able to find the $39 offer.  There’s probably a glitch of some kind that is making it show up only when you wend your way through the electrons a particular way.

Here’s how I found it again just now:  I use Firefox.  I entered  “daniel siegel mindsight” in the search box, then I clicked on the link for an Udemy ADVERTISEMENT that appeared in the top left corner of the search results.  The website that appears says the rate is $39 again today (coupon valid until October 8).   But when I went STRAIGHT to the udemy site, the cost is $137.

Go for it — fool around, and then REGISTER!   But bring your brain AND appreciation for quirkiness with you.   This is  fascinating material taught by a deep and independent thinker, serious expert and experienced researcher.  And, Siegel is a character with really colorful personal stories:  so far we’ve heard tales of misfittery in medical school, salmon fishery, dance, nudity in Greece, etc.


August 12, 2015

Who will address working people’s reasonable concerns when illness or injury disrupt their lives?

What do working people wonder and worry about when their lives (and work) have just been disrupted by a new illness, injury, or a change in a chronic condition?

While creating a course to train doctors how to meet their patient’s needs, we realized we had to know what those needs were.  It seemed obvious that patients would want to know what is wrong with them and what kind of medical care they need.  But beyond those things, we came up with a list of predictable and totally reasonable issues:

How long am I going to be laid up (out of commission)?
How long do I have to take it easy?
When I can go back to doing my usual stuff?
In the meanwhile, what can I still do? What shouldn’t I do?
What can I do to speed my recovery?
If I can’t work, how will we pay our bills next month?
When will life be back to normal? …..if ever?
What does this mean about me?   My future?
What is this going to do to my livelihood?  What will this do to us financially?
Who will help me?  Who can I trust?  Who has my best interests at heart?

I often show this list when I am speaking to groups about how to improve outcomes for people with common health conditions like back pain.  It always rings true with the audience.  After one presentation, an influential executive (in a wheelchair with quadriplegia) told me that she had had all of those concerns immediately upon awakening after her accident.

Here’s my question:   How are people getting these questions and concerns answered — when and by whom?  The standard design of a medical visit (memorized by all physicians during our medical training) DOES NOT include a time for doing it.  There is no sub-heading in our report format called:  Patient Education,  Instruction, and Guidance.  If it is happening, it is spotty at best.

So if most doctors are not answering these questions, who is?   Which of the other professionals who are responsible for responding to life & work disruption in working people IS going to address them?   Unless one of these “experts” does so, the people will have to come up with their own answers.  Yet how many are prepared to do that?   They will come up with their own best guesses (which may be wacky) or may turn to their family, friends, co-worker, neighbor, union steward, or a lawyer for answers (who may or may not give them a bum steer).

What does this mean for you?  If you are committed to better service (and/or want to avoid the trouble caused by bad advice), figure out a way to meet people’s totally reasonable needs for information and advice.   If you are a treating clinician, consider making a revision to your standard visit protocol and report templates by adding that missing section:  Patient Education, Instruction & Guidance.

Another simple idea for healthcare providers, employers or insurers is to create a standard operating procedure to mail out or hand out a brochure.  The 60 Summits Project developed a fact sheet for employees whose health conditions have just started to disrupt their work — and a fact sheet for supervisors on how to manage the situation in the workplace..  Feel free to use these sheets as is, or remove the 60 Summits logo and revise them to suit yourself.  But please do SOMETHING!

 


July 20, 2015

My “mini-manifesto” to reduce spine disability

You may be interested in the “mini-manifesto” I delivered this past Saturday 7/18 at the Spine 10×25 Research Summit in Chicago hosted by the North American Spine Foundation.  They have declared a worthy and very ambitious goal:  to reduce spine disability by 10 percent by the year 2025.  Thus the name: Spine 10×25. Pronounce it like you’re buying lumber – “10 by 25”.

(You can see the video and listen to my talk —  or even the ENTIRE 8 hour event because it was live-streamed and recorded.  Click here to do so.  Advance the recording by moving the blue dot along the horizontal line.  My talk starts at 5:31:50 and goes until 5:51:30.)

Do you know of any other medical group that has drawn a bold line in the sand like that?  I don’t.  It had never occurred to me that a professional society would set out to measurably move the needle.  They just don’t take on that type of project.  Most healthcare professional associations content themselves with pontificating:  being experts and telling other people what to do and how to do it.

My own professional society (ACOEM – the American College of Occupational & Environmental Medicine) has made many significant contributions to society.  In particular, our evidence-based treatment guidelines are very well regarded and in use by several states.   ACOEM has produced many other useful publications that have had a positive impact.  In fact, some of them were developed under my leadership.  But, in the end, they all amount to pontification.

In 2006, I told ACOEM I didn’t want one of those documents to just sit on an electronic shelf. We had developed it in order to introduce the work disability prevention paradigm and shift the way all stakeholders think about work disability.  Entitled “Preventing Needless Work Disability By Helping People Stay Employed“, that report needed to go out into the world.  Thus, the 60 Summits Project was born to carry it into the 50 US states and 10 Canadian provinces of North America.  We created groups of volunteer professionals who planned and held 20 multi-stakeholder summit-type conferences in 12 states and 2 provinces.  We invited the attendees to consider ACOEM’s 16 recommendations for improving the stay-at-work and return-to-work process.  We asked them to decide if they liked each recommendation, and if so, to make a plan for how they were going to carry it out in their own business, community, and jurisdiction. (60 Summits eventually ran out of money and was mothballed.)

Then last month, the boldness of the Spine 10x 25 initiative made me realize that even The 60 Summits Project had a pontification angle to it.  Propagating a new way of thinking and discussing a set of recommendations for change is not the same thing as CARRYING them OUT.  I felt compelled to go and check out these NASF people and participate in their Spine 10×25 Research Summit.

My assigned topic was “Precedents and Prospects for Success” in a 15 minute time slot that got expanded to 20.  It seemed important to speak straight and share my ideas about what needs to be true in order for their goal to be realized.  I offered the audience a (draft) conceptual foundation to use as a context for change, as well a summary-level vision of the way things will look in the future WHEN things have ACTUALLY changed and spine disability is BEING REDUCED by 10%.  View it here. Remember to advance the recording to 5:31:50.

I may expand a bit on some of the main points of that mini-manifesto in later posts.  I developed all of those slides at the conference in order to take into account what the speakers said who had gone before me!  Luckily, I also had some time at lunch.  The tight time limit meant a few big ideas got short shrift.

 

 


July 7, 2015

Free on-line CBT course helps Australians living with pain feel better

An Australian study in the journal Pain reports that a FREE on-line course that employs CBT techniques has worked well in helping patients with chronic pain reduce both distress and other symptoms  — no matter how much contact the patients had with a clinician during the several week course – and it clearly outperformed “usual care.”

The Pain Course was developed by psychologists as part of a non-profit initiative of the Centre for Emotional Health, part of Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia.  Their tagline reads:  “Developing effective, accessible and free psychological treatments …”   Before you get TOO excited, this particular course and the other on-line offerings of ecentreclinic.org which developed it are only open to residents of Australia.

Here’s a bit more about this group from their website:   “We comprise a team of psychologists, psychiatrists, and research staff….The eCentreClinic is a specialised research clinic that develops and tests state-of-the-art free online treatment Courses for people with symptoms of worry, panic, social anxiety, OCD, PTSD, stress, depression, low mood and other health conditions including chronic pain. We built the eCentreClinic because millions of Australian adults suffer with these symptoms and conditions each year. But, most do not seek help or see a mental health professional. We believe that people have a right to helpful information and to know about practical, proven, skills that help. We hope that by providing this information and supporting people to learn these skills via the internet more people will learn to master their symptoms and conditions. By doing this we hope they will also improve their quality of life and that of their families and communities.

Here’s a link to the abstract.   It is is an open access (free) article, so you can also download a pdf of the entire article here.


June 18, 2015

Pain-free without surgery — despite horrible-looking MRI

Sounds like at least one spine surgeon is in danger of working himself out of job.  Several years ago, David Hanscom, MD in Seattle developed an alternative to spine surgery called the Defined Organized Comprehensive Care (DOCC) program.  He says it helps people suffering with chronic back pain to calm down their nervous systems, starting with the anxiety and anger that chronic pain causes.  He offered the DOCC program to patients when he wasn’t sure that surgery was going to relieve their pain.  A lot of them got remarkably better — so better that they declared themselves pain-free.  The number of surgeries he did dropped, but his patient outcomes improved overall.  The non-surgical patients got better, and the surgical ones did too — because now he was only operating on the ones where it was crystal clear they needed the operation.

Then he took it up another notch.  Based on the success of the DOCC program, Dr. Hanscom decided to try using it to prepare people who had already been scheduled for surgery to have a smooth post-operative recovery.  We’re talking about people with horrible-looking MRIs that revealed structural problems entirely consistent with their symptoms.  The result has stunned and delighted him.  He says that more than 40 of these people have decided they don’t NEED surgery anymore after the DOCC program because their pain has pretty much gone away!   See more about this surprising development on his recent blog posting.

And if you work with people with back pain, or have the problem yourself, go to Dr. Hanscom’s website Back-in-Control.com and start calming down YOUR nervous system too.  The DOCC program is all laid out on the website — and it’s free.  All that’s needed is an open mind and the willingness to try a different path up and out of that deep hole.


June 5, 2015

A find! Free on-line course for patients with stress, pain & chronic illness

I spent hours yesterday on the web looking for some more self-development resources for our Maze-Masters clients.  By total chance, I fell upon a FREE ON-LINE VERSION of the famed 8 week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Program (MBSR) developed at the University of Massachusetts.  The developer is Dave Potter, a  generous psychotherapist from Idaho who is certified as a MBSR trainer by the UMass Center.     He had to make adaptations in going from a face to face classroom experience to an individual on-line one.   In so doing, he has compiled both the resources used in the course along with others — a rich array of videos and writings from some genuinely world-renowned experts.  They include Jon Kabat-Zinn who created the original UMass program, and many other teachers of mindfulness meditation, body awareness and yoga, and stress management.

As Dave says, MBSR does not “cure” serious medical conditions.  It is an evidence-based intervention.   A doctor can recommend it to a patient and formally “order” it as part of the medical treatment.  But the patient can just go get it themselves, too.   A large and growing body of research indicates the specific techniques taught in the program – when practiced regularly —  can have a significant therapeutic effect for those experiencing stress, anxiety, high blood pressure, depression, chronic pain, migraines, heart conditions, diabetes and other ailments.   Overall, participants say that they feel better:  their symptoms interfere less with their daily lives, and they feel more alive and more “in-tune” with themselves and others.

As the caption to Dave’s smiling photo says, “Even if you don’t intend to take the course, I hope you take advantage of some of the wonderful videos and articles offered freely on the free Palouse Mindfulness MBSR course website site.”

This discovery is GREAT from my point of view  because we have SO MUCH TROUBLE getting payers to shell out for books, videos and other instructional materials for our Maze-Masters clients.  These are out of pocket costs — on top of our time spent finding and getting the materials to the clients and talking with them to make sure they “got it.”   Have you noticed that at conferences, everyone TALKS piously about how important patient education is.  Well, baby, I’m here to tell you the payers AIN’T putting their money where their mouths are — yet!

By the way, in case you’re not aware, there are now established CPT codes that SHOULD allow providers to bill for (a) out of pocket costs paid for educational materials  and (b) delivering structured patient education programs.    In my limited personal experience, these are not yet being use routinely  — neither billed OR paid in the “real world”.  If you HAVE seen them in use, that’s EXCITING NEWS!  Please let me know who, what, where, when, why —  and under what circumstances!