LONDONERS: AN IMPORTANT UPDATE. THERE WILL A SCREENING OF THIS DOCUMENTARY, AT THE VUE CINEMA IN ANGEL, ISLINGTON, AT 3 pm FEBRUARY 4th, 2018, PUT ON BY MY FRIEND AND COLLEAGUE CLAIRE ALDERTON.
I have now actually watched the documentary made by Rumur, an independent film studio based in Brooklyn. In the UK your best bet at finding it is on Vimeo. It is a strange documentary about a lonely-seeming man, who has helped millions of people recover from their back pain. John E. Sarno is a medical doctor who worked with with Howard Rusk, working within the medical establishment. However, he rarely got referrals from fellow clinicians. His ideas were and probably still are revolutionary in the medical interventionist world of pill taking, surgery and the idea that bodies, like machines, can simply be fixed when they go wrong.
One of the things shown in the documentary is that Sarno's books and the message they contain, have helped literally millions of people to overcome their back pain, with no drugs or surgery. He is without doubt a superb proponent of psycho-education and his message is simple. Most of us have normal abnormalities in our backs, herniated discs and so on. For many people they cause no-pain whatsoever. 95% of chronic pain is psychosomatic. To be clear, this doesn't mean the pain isn't real but rather that in order to manage strong feelings our bodies tense our muscles which can lead to a great deal of pain. He calls it TMS: tension, myoneural syndrome.
'Rubbish' you are probably thinking. In 2011 the Institute of Medicine wrote a report saying there was no effective treatment for back pain. That these methods: pharmacological drugs, surgery, steroid injections, and implanted drug delivery systems didn't work. Oh My God, what a crying shame.
So Dr. Sarno battles-on, seeing people, helping Larry David and Howard Stern and the former Democrat Senator Tom Harkin. You can watch him giving his testimony to the Senate Hearing on Pain in America: Challenges to Relief . Senator Harkin asks Dr Sarno to give evidence after he cured his own back pain by reading one of Sarno's books. It was one of rare moments in the documentary when Sarno looked surprised and happy. How he has gone on doing what he does in the face of the resistance within the medical establishment, whilst remaining part of it, is quite extraordinary. Although he does say 5% of people need psychotherapy to help with the pain very little is made of spaces, people and theories who support or who are broadly aligned with him.
Although Freud is mentioned, indeed he gets a look in at the hearing in front of the Senate, I wonder if that is a first? Few contemporary practitioners who think and work along similar lines are mentioned. A few articles are filmed very briefly, including one authored by amongst others, Allan Abbass who has worked very successfully with non-explained medical symptoms and shown that ISTDP therapy can save $$$$ in recurring health-care costs.
I am going write a blog post about ISTDP, but for now the broad-brush. We are born, hopefully things start well, at some point something goes wrong in the experience of the baby or child between her and her primary caregiver. It might be a new baby appearing, it might be a bereavement, it might be abuse. The child feels rage. She cannot feel rage at the person she loves. She without knowing it, at all, squashes it and instead often feels guilt, but has no idea why. She then attacks herself, sometimes with migraines, hip pain, shoulder pain, back pain and so on. This is very, very broad-brush, but I now want to draw on the links to Dr.Sarno.
In the hearing, Dr Sarno explaining that 'economic insecurity increases physical pain'and how poor people defend against rage by turning it on themselves. As Senator Harkin then put it 'rather than burning down the capital, they burn down themselves'. So neat, so simple and so heart breaking. The statistics from the brilliant Adverse Childhood Experience Study are part of what began to shift the understanding of the link between our childhood experiences and later life. I found out later that Dr Sarno was 89 when giving that testimony, pretty impressive.
Just in case you haven't come across it, t was American study in the 1990s which interviewd 18,000 people going to their doctor for routine appointments. They were asked 10 questions about their childhood's If there was abuse, if parents were divorced, if they suffered from mental illness, if one of them was in prison. They found individuals who had more than 4 adverse childhood experiences died 20 years sooner than the others. That says it all really.
Psychic pain is harder to bear than physical pain and the big takeaway from Sarno is 'Your body is fine. You are in pain because you want to be good and yet you are in conflict about it and can't bear to know about the very difficult feelings you have inside'. How extraordinary, that fundamentally Freudian ideas have helped so many people, when they are at the same being dismissed as outdated, immaterial and stupid.
I have given you the bits of information I liked best. I wanted to see much more of him and his wife and found the narrative centering on one of the Directors Michael Gallinsky quite difficult to empathise with.
In my mind this documentary was a missed opportunity. It could have been argued so much better, there was much potential and yet the pace was wrong, the narrative not very engaging, when it should have been and it was only because I was writing this that I stayed watching it to the end. The last ten or 15 minutes really picked up the pace and if the rest of it had been like that I would really recommend it. I still do, so if you can't get to the Vue at Angel on February 4th, find it on vimeo.