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Pain Reprocessing Therapy (PRT): 5-Step Process

Pain Reprocessing Therapy in Cambridge UK
Gain a deeper understanding of the Pain Reprocessing Therapy (PRT) process. In this article, Alan Szmelskyj, Certified Pain Reprocessing Therapy Practitioner and an Osteopath with over 30 years experience, explains each stage of PRT and the mechanisms behind this groundbreaking chronic pain therapy.

What is Pain Reprocessing Therapy (PRT)?

Pain Reprocessing Therapy (PRT) is a cutting-edge approach to managing chronic pain. It is rooted in the principles of neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s ability to rewire itself, adapt, and change throughout life. With PRT, chronic pain is understood not as a lifelong sentence but rather as a maladaptive response that your nervous system has learned over time.

Unlike traditional pain management therapies that focus on the physical source of pain, PRT places emphasis on the role of the brain and central nervous system in the perception and maintenance of chronic pain. It operates on the premise that chronic pain is a result of the brain misinterpreting or overreacting to normal sensory signals due to various factors, including, but not limited to, prolonged exposure to pain, stress, and emotional factors.

PRT uses techniques such as pain re-education, somatic tracking, and positive psychology to help individuals change their perception of pain. The ultimate aim of PRT is to retrain the brain to stop generating the sensation of pain, thus reducing the intensity and frequency of chronic pain symptoms. In this article, I explain each stage of the PRT treatment process and each stage contributes to recovery from chronic pain. 

Find out more about Pain Reprocessing Therapy.

The Initial PRT Assessment

The initial assessment is designed to collate important information about your pain, medical history, and previous treatments. It enables us to understand potential factors that may have contributed to the onset and development of your chronic pain. This information will be used to individualise your therapy to your unique circumstances.

The assessment could include a detailed physical examination to identify any potential structural issues that may be causing some of your pain. As an osteopath with over thirty years of experience in the diagnosis and treatment of pain, I am committed to ensuring that no physical sources of pain are missed. If I am satisfied that your pain is not caused by a physical issue, I will develop your therapy plan.

Stage 1: Pain Re-Education

Building on the insights gained from the initial assessment, I will guide you through the latest neuroscience findings on chronic pain. You will gain a new understanding of how your central nervous system – specifically your brain and spinal cord – generates and maintains pain, as well as the role the pain-fear cycle plays in sustaining chronic pain.

This stage will lead you to re-evaluate your pre-existing beliefs about pain. This stage might also involve some independent learning.

Stage 2: Gathering Evidence

During this stage, under my guidance, you will explore the intricacies of your distinct pain experience. You will look for evidence that your discomfort is not associated with physical injury or tissue damage but is instead a result of faulty pain processing within your brain.

By closely examining the patterns and subtleties of your chronic pain in relation to your circumstances, behavioural patterns, and psychological factors, we can further validate the neuroplastic nature of your pain.

This detailed investigation helps us confirm that your pain has a neuroplastic basis and, therefore, can be reversed.

Stage 3: Somatic Tracking

Somatic tracking is a key component of the Pain Reprocessing Therapy process. It is an innovative technique designed to help you reassess your pain experience and reduce its intensity.

In the Somatic Tracking phase of PRT, we will work together to explore your unique pain sensations. The goal is not to eliminate or reduce the pain immediately but to observe and understand it from a new, more objective and neutral perspective.

You will be encouraged to ‘track’ or focus on your pain without reacting to it, changing your relationship with the sensation.

We may use various techniques during this phase, including:

  • Body scanning: This involves systematically scanning your body from head to toe, noticing any sensations or areas of discomfort. Doing so can make you more aware of your pain and its location.

  • Mindfulness meditation: Mindfulness meditation can help you cultivate a non-judgmental awareness of your pain. This involves focusing on your breath and allowing thoughts and sensations to come and go without getting caught up in them.

  • Guided imagery: Guided imagery helps you visualise a safe and comfortable place, allowing you to mentally distance yourself from your pain.

  • Progressive muscle relaxation: This technique involves tensing and relaxing different muscle groups in your body to help you become more aware of physical sensations and promote relaxation.

Somatic tracking promotes a significant shift in how you perceive pain. Instead of viewing it as a threat or something inherently negative, you will learn to understand it as just another sensation in the body, not associated with damage or harm. It helps to break down the pain-fear cycle, which often contributes to the persistence of chronic pain.

Over time, this change in perception can lead to reduced pain, improved daily functioning, and an overall increase in your quality of life.

Stage 4: Addressing Emotional Threats

The primary objective of this phase is to help you identify and confront any emotional barriers, fears or behavioural issues that may be contributing to your pain. This stage differs from previous stages by focusing on the underlying emotional factors rather than physical sensations or cognitive aspects of pain.

During this phase, I will work with you to:

  1. Identify emotional triggers and patterns related to your pain.

  2. Develop strategies to cope with and manage these emotional threats.

  3. Foster a sense of safety and security while confronting your emotional barriers.

We may use certain techniques to help you achieve this, including:

  • Cognitive restructuring: This technique involves identifying and challenging negative thought patterns contributing to your emotional distress. By replacing these thoughts with more balanced and positive ones, you can better manage your emotions and reduce their impact on your discomfort.

  • Exposure therapy: When you are ready, I will guide you through a gradual process of confronting and facing your emotional fears in a safe and controlled environment. This technique helps you build resilience and reduce the power these emotional threats have over your pain experience.

  • Emotion-focused coping strategies: I may teach you various coping strategies for managing your emotional responses to pain, such as deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, mindfulness meditation, or expressive writing.

Stage 5: Gravitating to Positive Feelings and Sensations

The fifth stage of Pain Reprocessing Therapy, ‘Gravitating to Positive Feelings and Sensations’, marks a significant shift in your journey towards managing neuroplastic pain. This stage is significantly different from the previous ones as it moves you away from the focus on pain, instead encouraging you to embrace positive feelings and sensations.

The primary objective of this stage is to help you develop an awareness and appreciation of positive bodily sensations and emotions. Rather than directing attention to pain or discomfort, we will work together to explore and amplify pleasant feelings. This shift in focus supports the rewiring of your brain’s pain pathways, further breaking down the pain-fear cycle and reinforcing your progress towards a pain-free life.

I will guide you through various techniques designed to foster positive sensations and emotions. These may include:

  • Positive visualisation: This technique generates mental images of positive scenarios or experiences. It aims to trigger feelings of comfort, happiness, or relaxation, which can aid in diminishing the emphasis on pain.

  • Guided sensory focus: You will be encouraged to seek experiences that focus on positive physical sensations – like the feel of soft fabric against your skin, the soothing warmth of a cup of tea, or the smell of a favourite scent. The purpose is to heighten your awareness of these pleasant sensations and train your brain to focus more on them rather than on the sensation of pain.

  • Enjoyable activities: Engaging in activities you love, whether listening to music, walking in nature, or reading a good book, can generate positive feelings that help overwrite pain signals.

The impact of this stage on your overall recovery can be substantial. By deliberately focusing on positive feelings and sensations, you create new, healthier neural pathways that can decrease the intensity of your pain. Moreover, associating positivity with your body promotes a shift in perception, allowing you to experience your body as a source of pleasure rather than discomfort.

The benefits of this stage are profound and multifaceted. By shifting your focus towards positive sensations and experiences, you disengage from your pain and enhance your overall emotional well-being. This, in turn, promotes a healthier relationship with your body and significantly improves your quality of life.

In summary, this stage offers a transformative approach to pain management, using the power of positivity to propel your journey towards a life less dominated by chronic pain. This is where your commitment and hard work start to pay off.

Your Unique PRT process

The journey through Pain Reprocessing Therapy is as unique as you are. How long you spend on each stage depends on your circumstances, existing knowledge, and personal comfort levels. Everyone progresses at a different pace, and each stage presents its own set of challenges and triumphs.

For instance, some people might need more support with Somatic Tracking, requiring extra time to understand and connect with their pain sensations truly. Others might find it more challenging to shift their focus towards positive feelings and emotions during the fifth stage, needing additional guidance to foster a more positive relationship with their bodies.

Additionally, it’s not uncommon to revisit previous stages. If you’ve lived with neuroplastic pain for a long time, your mind may occasionally revert to old habits and patterns. Revisiting an earlier phase is simply part of the journey and reinforces your progress.

I will be with you every step of the way, compassionately guiding you through each stage and adapting the therapy to your needs. Our ultimate goal is your successful journey towards overcoming chronic pain, following the path right for you.

Pain Reprocessing Therapy: Free Initial Consultation

Book a 15-minute free consultation to discuss how Pain Reprocessing Therapy can help you.

Picture of Alan Szmelskyj DO, MSc, Adv Dip Clin Hyp, FRSPH
Alan Szmelskyj DO, MSc, Adv Dip Clin Hyp, FRSPH
Alan Szmelskyj is a clinical hypnotherapist, a registered osteopath, Pain Reprocessing Therapy Practitioner, and Gut-Directed Hypnotherapy Practitioner based in Cambridge, UK. Alan has over 30 years of clinical experience and an extensive list of scientific publications. His specializations include the treatment of chronic pain and Gut-Directed Hypnotherapy for IBS. Alan is one of a handful of Pain Reprocessing Therapy practitioners in the UK. He is also qualified in three main methods of Gut-Directed Hypnotherapy for IBS. He is a member of the Neuro-Gastro Interest Group—a specialist group of Gut-Directed Hypnotherapy Practitioners. Additionally, he is a member of the Primary Care Society for Gastroenterology. Alan is available for in-person appointments in Cambridge and virtual appointments online.

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