Let Hope Shine Through

Ray of light shining through trees

By Dr. Peter Abaci

“Yes, there absolutely is hope.”

I have said this many times to new patients that I have seen for the first time, but only because I truly believe it. Patients often show up for the first time expressing frustration and pessimism about their pain problem ever improving. Chronic pain patients often find themselves in the position of seeing many different doctors and trying a number of different treatments, procedures, medications, and even surgeries without success. In some cases, their doctors give up on them, telling them that there isn’t anything further they can do to help. When I can get patients to understand where hope lies and how they can try to achieve a better quality of life, then the whole dynamics of treatment and healing starts to change. 

Going from hopeless to hope may be an important, but often overlooked, necessary step toward recovery. I was just at a talk given by Dr. Howard Fields, who has been one of the world’s preeminent researchers and experts on pain for many decades, where he made a very interesting point. He said that at one point in his career he started asking patients if they thought they were going to get better, and he found, to his dismay, that an overwhelming majority of them said “no.” When things don’t go well, we start to become conditioned to believe that things can’t get better.

But losing hope may prove to be a barrier to improvement with pain management. For about a century now, research has consistently shown that expectations play an integral role in what kind of results we experience from things, including medical treatment. If we repeatedly experience something very positive, or alternatively, very negative then that starts to shape not only our mindset, but it also directly affects measurable results. A patient can see two different doctors for the same treatment, but have very different results depending on how the doctor presents the plan to them. If the doctor comes across as believing in what he or she is recommending to have a great chance for success, then studies suggest the odds of a good outcome will be better than if the doctor presents a more negative attitude.

Overcoming a bad injury or a complex chronic pain problem can be scary and very challenging. In those situations, having hope can help sustain a person long enough to hang in there until good things happen as opposed to giving up. While the doctor can help with this by helping the patient develop realistic expectations and a step by step plan to get there, hope can also come from others who have had similar problems or struggled with chronic pain and were able to still get better. Finding the right role model, one who believes success can happen and has lived it, is a powerful thing, and something to look for if you feel frustrated and hopeless. As many great thinkers have said in the past, hope is when you see the brightest stars in the darkest of nights.



Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net