Group Coaching Is One of the Keys to Success with Chronic Pain

Paul Curtis, Override Pain Coach

When I think about my own health journey, I now realize that the greatest health pearls I uncovered often didn't come from renowned experts. Instead, they were uncovered through personal trial and error, curiosity about health challenges, interactions and conversation with peers, and a practical connection to personal values. The approach is rugged and adventurous, and I’ve found it to be key to unlocking long term health benefits. It is a blend of exposure to new information from those around us and a commitment to personal responsibility in the lifestyle changes we seek. 

Group coaching fosters an environment for exactly this exploration and exposure to others’ wisdom.

Here are just a few of the many reasons why group coaching is so critical on a journey to better manage chronic pain:

Group coaching is creative.

Individual coaching sessions are one-on-one with a client and a specialized pain coach; they allow the pair to really dig into the client’s individual issues and problem solve together on a molecular level that isn’t possible during group coaching sessions. Group coaching, however, is led and facilitated by a specialized pain coach and incorporates 3-6 other people with chronic pain. It allows the client to be exposed to so many more thoughts and perspectives. It’s like the age-old saying, “two heads are better than one.” Well, five or six heads are sometimes better than two. 

During group coaching sessions, each client shares what the guiding weekly topic means to them and how they can best implement the lesson in their own lives. They also share what doesn’t and hasn’t work for them and help other participants to avoid those same mistakes. This dialogue between many people struggling with similar issues stimulates creative problem-solving in each individual as to how to best adapt a concept to one’s own circumstances. Each client becomes skilled in developing his or her own creative ways of handling problems.

As coaches, sometimes we wish we could be more instructive, more of an educator. Yet we know that this approach robs the client of autonomy and self-efficacy. It stifles their creativity and prevents a shift in thinking that leads to long term behavior change. Instead of being the final authority on knowledge, the coach creates a space where learning is a product of curiosity and collaboration. 

Group coaching lessens isolation.

In a world that is increasingly distant and isolated, group coaching connects people that are facing similar challenges and who also want to experience a shift in thinking. 

Chronic pain is inherently isolating. Even when surrounded by loving family and friends – which many are but many are not – most people feel like people without chronic pain cannot understand or relate to what they experience. People with chronic pain are tired of hearing their friends and family tell them to “stay positive” and “be grateful it’s not worse,” for example. Unless you experience chronic pain, you don’t get what it’s like to live with it day after day.

In groups, clients are exposed, sometimes for the first time, to other people who are struggling with similar health challenges. This is a deep connection that many have really needed but couldn’t find elsewhere. Group coaching fosters this continued connection throughout our program.

Some groups decide to take the connection beyond the structured group coaching sessions, and we love that! I’ve led groups where the individuals form a text group, call each other, and encourage each other to exercise and help each other through flare ups. One group even formed a walking group where the individuals decided to talk to each other in a group via conference call during each walk they planned. Group coaching is a great opportunity for new and deep connection.

Group coaching softens skepticism.

A surefire way to build someone’s skepticism is to tell them what to do. I learned this the hard way. 

Many of our coaching clients are very skeptical when they come to us. And who can blame them? Almost without exception, each of them has a story about how the system failed them. Their world revolves around failed surgeries, mountains of complex diagnoses, habit-forming medications with miserable side effects, clinicians who have told them they are out of options, careers they are no longer able to pursue because of pain, etc. 

Understandably, when clients are referred to us, some automatically think, “this won’t work for me, I’ve tried it all.” And when they meet their pain coach, they fear interacting with yet another ineffective pain expert who will say “it’s all in your head” or “mind over matter.” We know that to be effective, we have to break the mold and use a different approach. 

The Greek philosopher, Plutarch, said, “The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be kindled.” Group sessions are a great way to soften skepticism because the objective isn’t to fill the client’s mind with information, but rather to stoke their fire. 

Group coaching is proven to be effective.

Over the past decade, we have found group coaching to be one of the keys to success for our clients with chronic pain. Clients have consistently reported high satisfaction with the structure and benefits they receive from the group coaching.

We definitely aren’t the only ones who have found it to be so effective. In the US Department of Veterans Affairs’ Whole Health model that is now being rolled out across the country, peer support was one of the central keys to the success of the program for people with chronic conditions. In my experience (both personally and as a coach) and in the VA model, we see that peer support ultimately helps people to take charge of their own chronic pain.

Group sessions are approached from this perspective: The coach is knowledgeable in the subject matter being discussed, but ultimately the client is the expert and in control of his or her own fate. This results in feelings of validation and a belief in one’s own ability to apply something new and helpful to their pain experience.

It’s important to know that group coaching is an artform that takes practice to develop and master. Our coaches have years of group coaching experience where we have mastered how to strike the right balance between guiding and focusing the group and providing them the states and flexibility to take the session wherever the group discussion naturally evolves.

Posted on 
September 6, 2023

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