Counseling Directly on a New Physical Injury

Earlier this year at a workshop, X- and I began to play-wrestle. My right leg and foot twisted under me, and suddenly there was a loud cracking noise and a lot of pain in my right ankle.

My instantaneous thoughts were:

  • I am not going to be a victim of this pain and "run away" from it.
  • Nor am I going to be a martyr and "put up" with it.
  • I don't blame X- for my injury, it's just something that happened.
  • I don't want any drug intervention.
  • Maybe medical intervention - but later, not now.
  • I've heard of RCers counseling directly on a new physical injury.
  • Here's the perfect opportunity for me.
  • I need a counselor.

At the same time, X- decided to be that counselor, putting his attention on my distress rather than on his own (e.g., guilt, embarrassment, urgent care-taking). The other men around us stopped what they were doing and quickly gathered around to give me their undivided attention.

X- sat at my feet. He held my foot in one hand and with his other pushed and probed with his fingers until he found where it really hurt. Another man propped up my back and neck with pillows and sat beside me with his arm around my shoulders.

I was not alone with the pain of my injury nor my feeling of shock.

For about twenty-five minutes, X- kept my attention completely focused on the pain (the exact opposite of what the drug companies want us to do and of what I had been trained to do in my childhood by loving, well-meaning adults). X- dug his fingers hard (but not too hard) into the places where the pain was strongest. I screamed, shouted, thumped on a pillow, sweat, and cried lots of hot, angry tears.

The outcome was remarkable. When we stopped, the pain was about five to ten percent of what it had been, and there was only a slight amount of swelling.

Gingerly I held my foot in the air. I could wriggle and twist it in all directions without an increase in the now slight pain. Still seated, I put my foot on the floor and pushed gently at first but then harder; no increase in pain. I stood up. Everything was still okay. I took my left foot off the floor, bent my right knee, twisted my body in both directions; no pain saying, "Stop!" I put both feet on the ground and went up on tip-toe. Still everything was all right, I took my left foot off the ground and went up on just my injured foot's tip-toe. My ankle was fine. I did a little dance and laughed.

For the rest of the day I avoided playing in the breaks and limped slightly - more out of concern not to re-injure myself than because of the slight pain in my ankle. It was easy to put my attention back on the workshop.

At bedtime, however, the pain returned enough to grab my attention. My roommate gave me a good session in which I remembered my dad comforting me after I had been hurt. The contradiction of another man simply showing love and concern about a physical injury was enough to bring on lots of crying.

It seemed to me that everyone present at my first session (including a nurse) was impressed by the effectiveness of counseling on a new injury in this way. I was pleased that I didn't take any drugs or have to pay for any expensive medical procedures to restore my ankle to normal functioning.

It seems to me that the human body has an immense, highly efficient, and completely adequate ability to fully and rapidly heal itself if it is allowed to use all of its healing processes at once without any interference or distraction. Having my attention focused completely on my pain was like stopping all other traffic and giving the "green light" to all the "ambulances" (endorphins, adrenaline, the immune and endocrine systems, etc.) to go unimpeded to where they were needed. Simultaneously, the discharge was keeping the distress from being recorded.

Lyndon Piddington
Prospect, South Australia, Australia
originally printed in Present Time Vol 107, p. 26

Last modified: 2019-05-02 14:41:35+00