Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) Pain Course – What is it about?

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Back in October you might have remembered I said that I was going on a ACT course at the Pain Clinic. It was an 8 day course, two days a week, over 4 weeks. I didn’t really know what to expect and sharing my experience will definitely take more than one blog post so if you want to know how I found it then read on.

Who is the course for?

Anyone who suffers with chronic pain and has been referred by their doctor to the pain clinic. The pain clinic then assess where you are at and if they think the course would be suitable for you. It uses ACT as a method to teach you how you can manage your pain and live a full life.

On my course (trying to remember) there were 7 people including me. They all had a range of chronic pain either from illness or from an accident. There were two other ladies who had fibro.

What happened on day 1?

The first part of the morning was spent filling out questionnaires about our pain, the intensity and how it affected our lives. The questionnaires were so that a measure could be done from the initial scores to the end scores on the effectiveness of the ACT. We were then told what the course would be about. It compromised of a few different components like psychology sessions, gym sessions, goals sessions and two sessions with a specialist pain doctor.

Within the group we talked about how long we had all suffered with chronic pain. It was nearly 100 years. We then discussed what we had all tried to help ease the pain. Here are some of the things:

  • operations
  • physio
  • medication
  • hydrotherapy
  • support groups
  • psychiatrist support
  • CBD oil
  • acupuncture
  • heat
  • rest
  • research

From all of these things we discussed the impact of them. We put them into a table with these headings: short term benefit; short term cost; long term benefit long term cost. We all agreed that the impact was short term and non gave a long term fix.

Do different, to get different.

This was the motto of the course. If we continue doing what we are doing then we’ll go on getting the same results.

In the gym.

After this, we went to the gym. I have to say I was absolutely dreading this part of the course. We discussed our thoughts and feelings and the general consensus was:

  • rather not be here
  • will it be worth it
  • beating ourselves up that not capable of what once was

Once we had discussed this we spoke about the benefits that the gym can provide:

  • loosens you up
  • improves wellbeing
  • sociable
  • reduces stiffness
  • helps with stress
  • builds up strength
  • tones muscles
  • helps with weight management

Pain isn’t the reason to exercise. The benefits that exercise brings is the reason to exercise.

Being fit helps you to do the things that you enjoy. These are some of the things that we said being more fit would help us do:

  • go out with friends
  • enjoy time with family and children
  • more flexibility
  • make housework easier
  • be able to do more at work
  • give more independence
  • open up opportunities to do hobby wise

Boom to bust.

NHS 2015

This is a cycle that we spoke about that we all said that we get into. I hold my hand up now and will say even after the course I still get stuck in this cycle but I try as hard as I can to stay out of it.

Pro’s:

  • make the most of feeling well
  • productivity
  • sense of achievement

Con’s:

  • takes longer to get back well again
  • recovery
  • mindset
  • mental health
  • social relationships
  • outlook

We established that pain is always there. Be it sometimes worse or more intense than others. Then we came up with a list of signs of struggle that were reliable being as we always had some amount of pain we said that pain wasn’t a reliable indicator of struggling.

  • shortness of breath
  • feeling hot
  • losing quality of the exercise that you are doing
  • less movement
  • raised heart beat
  • gasping

In the afternoon, we had a session with a specialist pain doctor. There was a lot mentioned in this session. When I started to write this blog post I forgot how much actually went into one day on the course so I’ll do a separate post on this.

If you want to find out more about ACT then these books below:

The Happiness Trap is written by Russ Harris

This book is one that I have started to read and found very useful. It’s easy to read and although not directly associated with chronic pain Russ acknowledges that all lives will suffer pain.

The Little ACT Workbook by Dr Sinclair and Dr Beadman

Again, this is an easy read and there are soe useful chapters throughout. Both Dr’s say this book is good if you want to find out more about ACT and I’d agree.

What do you think so far? Is it similar to a course that you’ve been on? Something that you think you’d find useful? Have you had any ACT before? I’d love to know!

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