Ronald Siegel is a longtime assistant professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School and the author of many books. With Sounds True, he has created the audio program Healing Through Mindfulness: Effective Practices for Chronic Health Conditions. In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Tami Simon and Ron talk about the psychological contributing factors to chronic pain—especially in the back and spine. Speaking on his own brush with debilitating pain, Ron explains the ways that stress and other psychophysiological components can instigate everything from insomnia to irritable bowel syndrome. Ron and Tami also discuss how to have frank conversations around chronic pain, as well as how to make friends with negative emotions like fear and anxiety. Finally, Ron shares his thoughts on the increasing willingness of the medical community to embrace mindfulness meditation. (70 minutes)
In my own experience, I can often trace the relationship between the onset of stress, an increase in muscular tension, and back pain. However, the problem for me has been when other people share about their painful conditions. I often jump to the conclusion that there must be a psychological component to their suffering—and then the person in question feels judged at best, and at worst that I am “blaming them for their illness.” Dr. Ron Siegel teaches how to meet someone in their pain (and by extension, how to meet our own pain) with utter openness and curiosity. The takeaway: pre-drawn conclusions shut exchanges down; genuine openness and curiosity create connection.