VA NY Harbor Health Care System
A way to be pain free
Talking about holistic treatment for pain at VA New York Harbor Healthcare System, Rochelle Rubin, NP, says “ We’ve been at the forefront for a long time, in terms of treating behavior and lifestyle for pain, not just prescribing narcotics.” She says the Harbor’s program was first developed over a period of a decade by Dr. Eric Sessions and has evolved as a strong non- traditional interdisciplinary approach to treating chronic pain holistically. In addition to seeing a physician or nurse practitioner, patients also consulted with psychologists, physical medicine and neurology specialists until their pain management stabilized.
Rubin has been coordinating the Pain Rehab Program for the past year and a half and describes an intensive approach for patients with disabling pain. Six patients from the pain management clinic with more disabling pain are selected for intensive management that involves a range of therapies. These include 12 weeks of sessions in cognitive behavioral therapy. Yoga, Tai Chi and Reiki programs are also available and Feldenkrais and hypnosis therapies will soon be available to patients as well.
The twenty four patients who have participated in the program report satisfaction. Recent participants in the Intensive Pain Management have varied widely in age from 20 to 70. The program draws equal numbers of men and women, Veterans and civilian VA employees.
Rubin says “patients learn self-management and by so doing can improve other life stressors that contribute to nagging pain and resultant generalized angst. They realize that “change is up to themselves and they have to look inside at their issues, there’s no magic pill for pain." Dr. Sessions concurs that this approach “helps patients take control of their lives." They dedicate four hours weekly to this group, with peer support, and their motivation is important which is also boosted by lunch at the end of each session.
Ellen Severino practices Reiki treatment at the Harbor. The patients she treats have hit a wall and want other tools to help manage their unrelieved pain when there’s no alternative treatment available such as surgery, anesthetic injections, or medication. Severino is treating four people in the current group who were open to trying something different that might help. Reiki is a complementary therapy to the other modalities and offers additional hope.
This healing process developed in Japan creates deep relaxation in the body, allowing repair mechanisms to turn on as occurs in deep sleep. During each 45 minute session, the clothed patient lies down with closed eyes and relaxes while the therapist’s hands hover close to various parts of the body for three minutes in each area, though never touching. This allows the body to “quiet down and find peaceful, centered place with many finding relief from pain.”
The results are immediate, especially for back pain and insomnia, though repeat sessions are needed to build on the positive effects. Their perception shifts from helplessness to being in control, which contributes to decreased stress and anxiety and overall improved sense of well-being, meaning less pain.