I'm excited to bring you this interview with Lorraine Faehndrich who is a Mind-Body Coach who is helping women with vulvodynia and other pelvic pain syndromes.
WUDT: So, how did you get into helping women with pelvic pain?
Lorraine: I got started because I experienced pelvic pain myself. Previously, I was a life coach and massage therapist and I was fascinated by how the mind and body work. I had also studied nutrition and gone to naturopathic college. Then a couple of years ago I had issues with pelvic pain and I healed it by communicating with my body. I had previously healed some other health issues I was having by listening to my body and what it had to say and so I decided to try that with my pelvic pain. Within 6 months I was healed. So afterwards, I did mind-body training and was attracted to working with women with pelvic pain and decided to specialize in that.
WUDT: I feel that the mind-body component is a huge piece of the puzzle and I will admit that though I continue to learn more in this area, I sometimes feel limited. I give patients stress coping techniques and relaxation exercises and education on their bodies. I can definitely address the physical issues, like trigger points and muscle tension, but the mental component is harder to address.
Lorraine: I feel that PT can be great when used in conjunction with a mind-body approach. Many of my clients have done PT or are in PT and feel they’ve gotten as much as they can out of it. For some women the issue is clearly and purely physical but for many women there is a lot more going on. A lot of underlying issues cause stress and tension including how they are dealing with their emotions. Our mind/body/emotion/soul system can’t be separated. It is all connected. What happens with our emotions and our mind affects our body, and vice versa. I find that women are very dissociated from their bodies and have been for a long time. Sometimes this is due to a trauma in their past or feeling emotionally not very safe. They need to develop mental and emotional coping strategies to help them with feeling safe and accepted. I think it can be a great opportunity when women are in PT to start tuning in and learning about their body. Though the traditional medical approach typically doesn’t acknowledge it, there is emotion held in the body that can come up with stretching and relaxation and this is a great opportunity to work with that emotion.
WUDT: It’s interesting that you mention that. I took a course earlier this year about chronic pain and they discussed how emotion gets stored in scars and if patients are having scar pain you should work on the scar and have them talk about it. For example, I had a patient who had a traumatic birth with vaginal tearing and afterward she had painful intercourse. We worked on her muscle tension and trigger points and her scar tissue and she got a lot better but she continued to have pain just in the area where her scar was. So I had her talk about her birth story, about what happened. No judgment, just what happened, while I did scar work. And the emotion started to come out about her fear during the birth and afterward about having more children. We did this for a few sessions and it really made a difference.
Lorraine: That is a perfect example. There are so many emotions that women can hold in their body – about birth, about their relationships and work, their lives in general. I also think we have a big cultural problem that may contribute to pelvic pain. Women walk around feeling shameful and bad and wrong about looking at and understanding this part of their body. We are very disconnected from our pelvises in general, and learning how to reclaim this part of the body can definitely be part of the healing process. A big part of the work I do is helping women to be comfortable with being in their body and feeling their emotions. This allows the emotions to move through the body and not get caught in muscles. A lot of women hold emotional energy in their pelvis when they feel guarded and unsafe.
WUDT: It’s a fine line with explaining to patients that there is a mental and emotional component to their pain without them feeling like I’m just one more person telling them it’s all in their head. So many doctors have already told them that and they’ve been made to feel like they’re crazy.
Lorraine: I also hear that a lot and have to clarify that I know (firsthand) that the pain is very real. Everything that your mind creates is real. Pain isn’t in your head it’s in your body but that doesn’t mean that it’s not connected to what’s happening in your mind. Everything is very connected. If you think a thought, like I’m never going to get out of pain, your nervous system sends out signals and does things that affect your physiological function and create tension and this all affects your ability to heal. We definitely underplay the effects of the experiences in our lives and the ways we’ve learned to feel our emotions. This has a huge impact on tension and pain in particular.
The work I do is based on the work of Dr. John E. Sarno who wrote The Mind Body Prescription. He worked with back pain patients and was a surgeon that recognized the underlying cause of the pain was emotional. He taught his patients that their pain was 100% emotional, even when x-rays showed a slipped disc or some other physical issue. He would tell them that other people have these same physical issues but don’t have pain as a result. In other words, the physical issue isn’t what was causing the experience of pain. He had a very high success rate.
There are two underlying causes.
The first is having repressed emotions that you’re not dealing with. We’re not aware when we’re not feeling emotions because our brain protects us from emotions it thinks are threatening. This can be due to experiencing something traumatic or living in an environment where we can’t cry or emotions aren’t welcome. Our brain learns to shut them down by using muscle tension to hold back the emotions and this sets off the fight or flight response, which creates more stress and tension
The other issue is that the brain is using pain as a distraction from our emotions and the issues in our lives that we are not addressing. The pain is a decoy because instead of being aware of the emotion or the issue, you are constantly worrying about pain and trying to fix the pain.
I have been successful with education on the mechanisms of pain and teaching clients how to come back into the body and feel sensations. The way to start feeling emotions is to start feeling what’s going on in your body.
I also find that many women with pelvic pain are living out of alignment with their true self in some area of their life. In order to stay in a situation like that you have to suppress a lot of emotion. So we address the bigger mental and emotional issues that create the pain in the first place. Sometimes these can be personality traits like perfectionism or being super critical of ourselves and not connected to our bodies and not living the life we want to be living. Sometimes it comes from what we learn about our bodies. We can walk around carrying a lot of shame, or beliefs about sex and marriage and what a woman’s role is that aren’t in alignment with who we are. I think pain can actually be a gift to get women to address the bigger things that are going on in their lives. It was for me.
Lorraine Faehndrich works with women all over the United States by phone and through Skype internationally. She provides private coaching as well as a group class a couple of times per year over the phone.
She is offering a free introductory tele-seminar on March 24th
This free seminar will be followed by an 8 week program which will begin on April 14th and registration opens on March 24th.