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Chronic Pain and sexuality: How Eva Margot Kant, LCSW-R helps people navigate these issues

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(Image courtesy of Eva Margo Kant, LCSW-R)

The National Institute of Health (NIH) defines chronic pain as pain lasting more than 3 months and it affects more than 100 million Americans today.  As a pelvic floor physical therapist, I help patients with both acute and chronic pain, more specifically pelvic pain, on a daily basis. Due to the private nature of pelvic floor issues, sexual dysfunction, or bowel and bladder complaints it can be difficult for patients to feel comfortable talking about their symptoms.

The famous quote, “no man is an island,” rings true for healthcare providers who treat chronic pain as multiple specialists working together is more effective than one. I recently met with Eva Margot Kant, LCSW-R  with 12+ years of experience helping people deepen their self-esteem, navigate life’s transitions, and address fears and questions about chronic illness/pain which includes topics of sexuality and sensuality. Eva taught me some great perspectives on how she helps people heal their emotional/sexual wounds and how they can be a source of chronic pain.

Eva runs workshops about sex and disability, sex and aging and trains medical students how to talk about sex with their patients. Her goal is to help people “unpack their feelings” that are attached to physical pain and anxiety. Anxiety increases the output of the limbic system, the emotional flight or fight, and memory areas of our brain which results in pain.

Eva believes that “understanding how the body works is the key to understanding you”.  Her job is to help people understand what their sexuality is to them and to own how they view and understand it.  Eva believes that “the body always remembers.” She likened the reflexive blink of an eye that’s about to be poked to the feeling a woman with sexual pain feels if her partner demonstrates affection. The woman may fear that any show of affection may lead to sex which is painful for her, so she avoids this.

Eva’s goal is to help patients learn if some physical reflexive tightening may be due to thoughts involving shame, guilt, or embarrassment.  She helps clients decide when to disclose to a new partner about their chronic condition. She stressed the importance of self-care with their partner and to feel emotionally safe. People who have chronic pain/illness may go thru life as if they are “holding their breath.” Often times Eva finds that partners want to help, they just don’t know how. Demystifying chronic pain/illness allows partners to be supportive and an active participant in healing.

Eva’s upcoming book and course work, called “The Holy Trilogy of Sex (c),” guides patients and their partners in sensuality, sexuality, and intimacy; none of which are possible without communication, sensation, and connection. She encourages partners to engage in body mapping: offering each other a “menu” of intimate ideas that can promote togetherness without causing more pain.

As a Pelvic Physical Therapist, I invite my patient’s partner to a session to observe, learn, and understand what my patient is experiencing and teach the partner ways they can help. I work on the physical aspect of pain with my manual, movement and exercise therapies while Eva addresses on the mental and emotional aspects of chronic pain which leads to a more efficient outcome.

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EMH Team; Jennifer Jurewicz, Tova Laufer & Charissa Morrisroe with Eva Margot Kant, LCSW-R

If you have chronic pelvic pain consider receiving both physical and talk therapy to get your life back on track.  Consider visiting us at EMH Physical Therapy and Eva Margot Kant, LCSW-R if you are in the NYC area. Your pelvic floor with thank you!

Resources:
http://evamkantlcsw.com/
http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/chronic_pain/chronic_pain.htm

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What is Somatic Experiencing® and How Does it Heal Trauma/Chronic Pain?

Dr. Sharlene Bird Visits EMH Physical Therapy

One of the things I love most about being in the healthcare field is learning from other practitioners. Through my years as a physical therapist treating chronic pain patients, I’ve found that a team approach works better than an isolated one. So, when Dr. Sharlene Bird, a clinical psychologist, came to talk to the EMH team I couldn’t wait to pick her brain!

Dr. Bird is a New York State Licensed Psychologist, Certified Sex Therapist and Certified EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) Therapist who specializes in CBT and SE®. Say What? Let me translate the alphabet soup.

Dr. Bird has been in practice for over 20 years treating individuals and couples who experience sexual dysfunction and/or childhood trauma.

Initially, Dr. Bird mainly used a cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) approach, aka “everything is in the head”.  However, over the past seven years, she’s been integrating Somatic Experiencing® (SE) with great results.

Somatic Experiencing® (SE)

SE®, developed by Dr. Peter Levine, focuses on the patient’s actual physical response in conjunction with the nervous system’s reaction to past traumatic experiences. There is a healthy range of responses to trauma which doesn’t wreack havoc on our physical and emotional stability.

In the graph below, you’ll see a normal range of responses: settling between being activated/heightened or relaxed/lowered.

Somatic-Experiencing-Healthy-Nervous-System

image credit www.mindfulsomatictherapy.com/

Unhealthy levels are those responses that are outside of the “normal” range. If a patient is too elevated above the normal range they may be suffering with anxiety, panic, digestive issues, hypersensitivity to sounds (heightened startle reflex), sleep problems or chronic pain.

Too low under normal range and a patient may be suffering with depression, flat affect, lethargy, poor digestion or chronic fatigue.

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image credit www.mindfulsomatictherapy.com/

SE® helps the body resolve physical and emotional trauma so one can reach a sense of being “settled.” By working with her patients on becoming present and mindful in a safe space, Sharlene helps her patients heal.

As a DPT I’m obviously focused more on the “body healing” side of things, but I understand that our mind plays a big role in how we process pain.

Releasing Trauma

With the SE® approach, Dr. Bird asks a patient, “As you recall that trauma, what begins to happen inside your body?” this allows the patient to focus on the senses their body is feeling. The simple act of being mindful of how the body feels when remembering a traumatic experience plays a large role in freeing trauma. The patient will then be able to resolve the stalled ‘fight-or-flight’ response that occurred at the time of their trauma. This treatment approach completes the loop to healing.

Dr. Bird works with patients for weeks or months to learn to read and help patients sense what is going on in their bodies in small manageable bits. She creates an environment that is moderately stressful, but still safe and controlled, to expand the capacity for creating new experiences and learning to “ride the wave.” The end goal is to re-establish a natural ability of the nervous system to shift smoothly between being activated and settled within the normal ranges.

Dr. Bird encourages mindfulness and sensory awareness and ended her presentation with a quote by Steve Goodier that is so fitting and helps us appreciate our bodies:

“You have a great body. It is an intricate piece of technology and a sophisticated super-computer. It runs on peanuts and even regenerates itself. Your relationship with your body is one of the most important relationships you’ll ever have. And since repairs are expensive and spare parts are hard to come by, it pays to make that relationship good.”

In today’s hectic world we can all use a reminder to be kind to ourselves and our bodies and keep that relationship “good.”

You are here

If you feel like Somatic Experiencing® will help you on your healing journey, see the resources below for more information. Happy feeling & happy healing!

resources:

http://www.drsbird.net/: for more about Dr. Sharlene Bird

http://somaticexperiencing.com/: for more on Dr. Peter Levine and Somatic Experiencing®

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