Writing to heal

“You are not your thoughts”

This post comes from Dr. David Hanscom’s, author of one of my favorite books Back in Control: A Surgeon’s Roadmap Out of Chronic Pain, 2nd Edition. Dr. Hanscom is a spinal surgeon who has performed hundreds of spine surgeries over his years of practice. At one point he discovered that success rates for common surgeries such as spinal fusions were pretty poor. He discusses the revealing specifics HERE in a recent podcast. In an effort to discover a “better way” at helping patients with back pain, he developed this ground breaking program. On his page HERE you will see the 4 stage program to CURING chronic pain. What I found most interesting was that he stresses over and over the importance of expressive writing. This simple activity, taking just 15 minutes a day, has been the foundation for healing for all his patients. Dr. Hanscom explains more about this novel technique below.

“Philosophers have said for centuries, “You Are Not Your Thoughts”. Thoughts are real and the corresponding hormonal response from your body reinforces this perception. However, they are not your reality. Since chronic pain is linked with anxiety and frustration (The Terrifying Triad) your thoughts and life can become progressively dark.  My term for the situation is living in “The Abyss”.

In the era of advanced neuroscience research, pain, anxiety, and anger are all viewed as neurological circuits. You cannot control, change, or remove any of these imbedded pathways. You can only detach or separate from them. You then have the capacity to form “detours” or new more functional circuits.

Writing begins your path to healing

The DOC process begins with the expressive writing exercise. It creates an awareness of your thoughts, positive or negative, and separates you from them. Its effectiveness has been demonstrated in many research studies. (1) The DOC Starting Point

  • Associating thoughts with physical sensations forms neurological pathways.
  • Writing down your negative thoughts creates a space between you and the paper
  • It associates that space with vision and feel.
  • You will separate from your thoughts with repetition.

Your journey to healing will  begin only when you engage in a regular writing routine.  Write and don’t stop

1. Write your thoughts and instantly destroy them.

  • Write down specific thoughts. They do not have to make any sense or be legible.
  • Destroy them
    • You can write with complete freedom.
    • It is important to NOT analyze these thoughts. Your attention will still be on them.
  • Do this once or twice a day for 15-30 minutes per session.
  • It is counter-productive to “journal” or keep these writings.

Can you unlearn how to ride a bicycle?

With chronic pain your brain lays down pain pathways similar to you knowing how to ride a bicycle. These pathways are permanent. This is not a “psychological” problem so traditional psychological approaches do not work. Once you know how to ride a bicycle you cannot unlearn to ride it. The writing seems to break through these circuits. Unlearning How to Ride Your Bicycle

Here’s a last word from Dr. Hanscom. “There are many additional healing strategies but all are in ADDITION to the writing. Writing is not the final solution but it is the foundation. I have seen few patients become pain free without this step.”

See Dr. Hanscom’s full article on his page HERE

And here’s his book Back in Control: A Surgeon’s Roadmap Out of Chronic Pain

In happiness and health,

Dr. McKay Murdock, Pain Specialist


One comment

  1. Hi McKay, Thanks for the support and interest. I have always intended my book and website to be a resource for whoever feel that they can use it add some dimensions to their practice. Let me know if I can help in any way and it would be great to catch up by phone. Best regards, David Hanscom


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