04 Dec All the Rage Spotlight on Georgie Oldfield
What interested you in mind body related medicine?
For many years I was a pretty conventional Physiotherapist, but in the year 2000 I decided to undertake a diploma in Reflexology, just because I thought it would be interesting! This was the start of 7 years of further courses in other complementary therapies, such as adapted Reflextherapy in Spinal Pain, Acupuncture and a form of Bowen therapy. The often excellent results I was observing in my patients with these therapies, especially for pain relief, initiated a major change for me in my career, when in 2005 I left the NHS and opened my own Pain Relief Centre in West Yorkshire.
Over the years though I began to realize that just because someone had pain in a particular part of their body, it didn’t necessarily mean that this area was the cause of the pain. I also began to question the numerous anomalies we commonly see, especially in people with chronic/persistent musculoskeletal pain, because the biomedical model just didn’t seem to provide a credible answer. Through my body work therapies it became clear to me that the whole body was involved when someone presented with pain, and in time through my own research as well as my own personal journey, I learned that our environment, and our mind, also played a big part in not only the severity of the pain, but the triggering and it’s perpetuation. Eventually in 2007, I came across Dr Sarno’s books via an email from Amazon!
How has Dr. John Sarno influenced your work?
I was one of the lucky ones who was able to resolve my own recurring pain/health conditions from reading Dr Sarno’s books and applying the suggestions he recommended. I therefore began to recommend his books to my patients, buying them in boxes of 50 from the US, and supporting patients as best I could at the time. The understanding I gained from Dr Sarno’s books and other books on the subject was like an epiphany for me. The often life-changing results I was observing in my patients meant that I soon realized I couldn’t continue to work the way I had, focusing solely on a physical cause for the pain patients presented with.
I couldn’t find anyone in the UK or Europe who specialized in this area, so I ended up contacting Dr Sarno himself who invited me over to observe him with his patients in New York in 2007. On my return I set up the first TMS Recovery Programme in the UK, which over the years evolved to become the online SIRPA Recovery Programme, therefore enabling people to access it worldwide. As you can see, coming across the pioneering work of Dr Sarno was a pivotal point for me in changing the whole direction of my career and due to the results my patients were having, this approach very quickly became my primary focus and not to put it too strongly, my purpose in life.
How often, in your opinion, are patients misdiagnosed each year, and how can we put an end to this?
The longer I have worked in this field, the more I have realised the enormity of the problem with misdiagnosis of chronic pain, and other persistent health problems, in the western world. I can honestly say that I believe well over 90% of the musculoskeletal pain/symptoms my patients have presented with throughout my career would have been stress-induced, or as Dr Sarno calls it, TMS. In other words, once any tissue damaging condition has been ruled out (such as acute inflammation, a fracture, cancer or an auto-immune disorder), you can guarantee any ongoing pain will be stress-induced.
Simply put, I believe education and building up the evidence base is the way to improve the situation in order to raise awareness and help change the long-held, but faulty, belief that chronic pain is always a physical problem.
What, In your opinion is the most important part of starting the journey to recovery?
Education and an openness to the possibility that maybe there’s another reason for their pain. An acceptance of an emotional cause and a sense of self-empowerment usually enables individuals to begin their recovery.
Every individual is different, and every patient is also unique, how does this apply to recovery?, Is recovery a one method fits all, or do you have to contour a method for each person?
I believe a good general understanding of the concept and how and why symptoms can be stress-induced is an important starting point for everyone. Being able to personalize the understanding and approach to themselves, their personality, experiences and situation is also important. Many people can do this themselves, but others find they require additional support and guidance from a Practitioner experienced in this field who can help them identify the links and triggers for their pain, plus help them overcome and learn from any challenges during their recovery.
Providing a variety of self-empowering strategies enables individuals to pick what they feel most comfortable. For example, even though I might feel that mindfulness and journaling are very important in enabling people to deal with past and present issues, including dealing with the hectic pace of life these days, many people recover without these and/or just can’t relate to them. Personality and learned behaviours can play an active part in the triggering and then ‘fueling’ of symptoms so, not surprisingly, this is an area where professional help might be required to help an individual understand how to reduce the daily self-induced stress and become more stress-resilient.
How do you think modern medicine is doing in treating TMS? Is there anything you would change about our current healthcare system?
There is a difference in the way the UK and the US deal with healthcare as a result of health insurance, but I believe the involvement of health insurance companies and Pharmaceutical companies needs to change for a real shift to happen.
Could you tell us about your organization SIRPA?
After a few visits to the US to visit Specialists in this field and attend conferences about this concept and approach, I decided to set up SIRPA in 2010 and through this I developed the first training programme worldwide in this field. The aim is to engage health professionals, educate them on the SIRPA approach to chronic pain recovery, and equip them with practical competencies necessary to shift their patients from living with pain to living without it. I also developed the online SIRPA Recovery programme which provides an in-depth self-empowering programme for individuals with persistent pain/symptoms to follow independently, or where required, with the support of a SIRPA Practitioner. SIRPA also provides a list of approved SIRPA Practitioners, plus those undertaking certification to become approved by demonstrating their confidence and competence in supporting clients through their recoveries.
Two of my 5 years goals when I began SIRPA were to; publish a book to raise awareness of this work over this side of the Atlantic (Chronic Pain: your key to recovery – published Summer 2014), plus to hold a conference. The latter will take place on 26th April 2015 at the Royal Society of Medicine, London. The altruistic nature of those who work in this field has resulted in us being able to gather together 5 of the world leaders in this field under one roof, which is a first outside the US, so I am very thankful for everyone’s support.
Do you think there is a cultural shift in the direction of the a mind-body health system?
Definitely. I have noticed a real shift over the past few years. Chronic pain research has become more and more focused on how stress and emotions affect pain, which can only help people become more open to the mind-body relationship. I believe the shift has also been helped by the increasing interest in mindfulness as a therapy, as well as a strategy to help people deal better with hectic lifestyles. I have no doubt it will continue to move in the right direction.
For more information about SIRPA and Georgie, visit www.sirpauk.com