By Kris Fant, LMHC, LPC, NCC
I recently came across a quote that struck me as so true, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it. Because what the world needs is more people who have come alive.” (Howard Thurman) This concept has been the driving force in my life. I have wanted to be a mental health counselor since my early teens. Listening to and understanding people made me feel alive and connected to others, to myself, and to the world. In this journey, I have found myself working with individuals in every possible life circumstance. Ten months ago, I moved from Seattle to Portland, and because this meant a job change, I had time to reflect on what I love about this work, what aspects of a company are truly important to me, and what I wanted to do next. I came to the conclusion that I love working for small companies where the values center around providing high quality services to a wide variety of populations. I also know that I love being part of a team; mental health can be very isolating, and being a part of a team helps me to have deeper insight and a broader perspective that I always find benefits my client. In my search, I found Progressive Rehabilitation Associates.
Progressive Rehabilitation Associates (PRA) is a small company that has been helping people return to work, play, and life in the face of persistent pain for nearly 25 years. They also have a program that treats individuals with traumatic brain injury (TBI), which frequently co-occur with persistent pain. At PRA, the philosophy is that it takes a team to help people to learn to manage their pain. This team is comprised of a medical doctor, a nurse, two psychologists, an occupational therapist, a biofeedback specialist, a physical therapist, and myself, a mental health counselor. Our services are non-interventional, with the goal of increasing their self-management skills and knowledge of pain, neuroplasticity, and themselves. My role, specifically, has been to provide individual and group mental health counseling in both the pain and the brain injury program utilizing Acceptance and Commitment Therapy to help people to come to terms with their pain, to reexamine their values, and to help them live a life more congruent with their values. I provide psychoeducation about neuroplasticity to help people to understand that they can retrain their brains, and I teach people to utilize a combination of mindfulness, relaxation, and play to rediscover positive, healthy, pleasure in their lives. We serve a variety of populations, including injured workers and people with commercial insurance. PRA also believes strongly in serving underserved populations, and has actively worked to provide services to individuals who utilize state medical insurance. In these situations, I often take on the role of case manager and longer term therapist, connecting individual to community resources and providing ongoing support through individual therapy and by offering a free pain support group to share challenges, successes, and resources.
I see Pain Week as an opportunity to connect with other people who are trying to help people learn to deal with their persistent pain, as well as a way to find out the cutting edge research in helping people with their persistent pain. Pain week has timely presentations on topics that I have been trying to research and that my clients are asking me about, including stem cell research, medical cannabinoids, the pros and cons of using medications, complementary and alternative medicine, and the role of behavioral interventions. Treating persistent pain was only a small aspect of my previous practice, so I am constantly seeking information and training to provide the best services I can to my clients. It would also allow me to bring back this information to share with my team so they can also grow in their knowledge, skills, and practice. Additionally, chronic pain is minimally discussed in the field of mental health. I utilize the knowledge I am gaining daily in communicating with other mental health practitioners in the community to destigmatize chronic pain, and to help other clinicians build an understanding about the condition that is impacting their clients.
While I do as much self education as I can, the two barriers that keep me from attending more trainings are common to many practitioners, time and cost. I have a full caseload in my agency, and going to smaller, individual trainings takes time away from my clients. Many trainings are also expensive, and with a two children, one who is in college, money is often too tight to afford the many trainings I would like to attend. Pain Week seems to be such a valuable opportunity, with so much training in one compact amount of time.
In reflecting on my future goals, I will again quote Howard Thurman: “There are two questions we have to ask ourselves. The first is “Where am I going?” And the second is “who will go with me?” If you ever get these questions in the wrong order, you are in trouble.” As a therapist specializing in pain counseling, I believe that my role is to help my clients find out where they want to go, and then to go with them on their journey. It is not my life or my pain, it is not my challenge or success. It is never my role to dictate the direction my client will go, however I will be there to accompany them on their journey until they are ready to go alone. My hope is that Pain Week will help me to be a better companion, armed with travel maps, compasses, and supplies that can help my client’s find their personal direction, and to discover what makes them come alive.