09 Dec Liz Wallenstein
I became a patient of Dr. Sarno when I was just 18 years old. I was a senior in high school, but felt I was trapped in the body of an 80 year old. I had excruciating and debilitating back pain- it was consuming my life and making me feel hopeless for my future. MRIs and other scans were inconclusive. Muscle relaxants, specialized seats and mattresses, and weekly chiropractic visits didn’t help. The doctors had nothing else to tell me… until I heard of Dr. Sarno. I called Dr. Sarno and asked for an appointment and he suggested I read his book, that maybe I wouldn’t need to see him at all. I lived in NY, the location of his office, so I was shocked a doctor would forego his (at the time) substantial visitation fee and have me just read a book instead. I bought the book but my parents still insisted on a visit. I was pain free and resumed a normal life within weeks.
It doesn’t stop there. Reading Dr. Sarno’s book and adopting his theory began a road to self-discovery for me. I learned so much from the process and I felt forever grateful for the ways my life was changing. Over the years I would sporadically have minor relapses of pain that I was able to manage with the mental techniques Sarno taught. But then I had a significant relapse where reminding myself of the correct diagnoses and checking in with my feelings was not enough for me to find relief. I knew Dr. Sarno said some people would need to seek psychological help in order to find relief (even if they do not have a history of trauma). I went to Dr. Fran Sommer-Anderson, one of the psychologists that worked alongside Sarno for decades, and was amazed at what I learned about how I function in the world and ways it was affecting me. I became pain-free again and have never experienced chronic pain again since.
Though becoming free of physical pain was liberating and exhilarating, I became especially fond of the emotional and mental healing that also came along with the TMS diagnoses. This is one of the things that inspired me to become a psychotherapist, and why treating TMS psychologically has become a specialty of my therapy practice. I’ve learned that your body can hold more awareness than your conscious mind can, and that pain can be your psyche’s way of trying to communicate something to you. And the ability to listen to it and respond appropriately can change your life on many levels. I feel extremely fortunate for my experience and want to be able to help others to experience that as well.
How often, in your opinion, are patients misdiagnosed each year, and how can we put an end to this?
As a psychotherapist, and not a medical doctor, this is hard for me to answer. But many of the patients who come see me went from doctor to doctor with the majority never even mentioning the mind-body connection.
What, in your opinion is the most important part of starting the journey to recovery?
Trust and keeping an open mind. I find a lot of people are excited when they read Dr. Sarno’s books because it makes sense to them, but there’s also a secret fear they will be the exception to the rule. Or their recovery may not follow exactly someone else’s recovery they read about and they will be quick to think “oh no, what if it doesn’t work.” Recovery takes a certain amount of trust, openness and giving up control, which can be challenging for the typical TMS patient. The ability to re-adjust the story around your pain varies greatly per person, so people’s recovery times and experiences vary greatly.
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?
What helps people heal is pretty much the same. What varies is a person’s ability to receive and process it. As a psychotherapist, I’m constantly gauging a person’s readiness and tailoring my interventions to meet them where they are, to maximize the benefit to them.
Pressure to ‘feel better already’ makes TMS worse. It’s important for clinicians to communicate patience, trust and confidence in their patients’ recovery, so patients can absorb that for themselves.
How do you think modern medicine is doing in treating TMS? Is there anything you would change about our current healthcare system?
It’s still being treated as something fringe or only for certain hippy-type people. This isn’t fair to the many people who are suffering and going through unnecessary and unhelpful surgeries and treatments; or who have to live their life with a defeatist self-concept such as, “I have a bad back”. This needs to be treated as mainstream medicine in the health care system and communicated that way to the public.
I find most people I meet today have heard of Dr. Sarno or are familiar with his work, yet that’s not reflected in the medical community. There’s a need for doctors to catch up with the average patient! That it’s worked for the patient’s friend, but the doctor doesn’t even recognize it, is going to cause people not to trust medical professionals.
Liz Wallenstein’s therapy practice is in Brooklyn and Manhattan, NY. To find out more about her work you can visit, www.LizWallensteinTherapy.com