Can Changing How You Pay Attention Help Ease Pain?

October 10, 2010

Dissolving Pain by Fehmi and RobbinsThank you to our guest blogger, Dan Fields, for this informative and timely book review of Dissolving Pain: Simple Brain-Training Exercises for Overcoming Pain by Fehmi and Robbins. 

Can changing how you pay attention help to ease pain? Yes, suggest psychologist and biofeedback expert Les Fehmi, PhD, and science writer Jim Robbins in their new book, Dissolving Pain: Simple Brain-Training Exercises for Overcoming Chronic Pain (Trumpeter, 2010). The conventional understanding of pain is that it results from an injury to the body—such as a slipped disk, in the case of back pain. However, the authors contend that “pain, whatever its causes, resides principally in the brain and can therefore be treated by working with the mind in specific ways.”

Consider the phenomenon of phantom limb pain, in which pain persists in a limb after it has been removed. “Areas of the brain associated with the missing limb can still, mistakenly, generate pain, probably because they are [abnormally] sensitized,” according to Fehmi and Robbins.

You can reduce the intensity of any type of pain, the authors suggest, by expanding your focus of attention—like zooming out with a camera. “When you are narrow-focused on something, including pain, it represents 100 percent of your awareness. When you broaden your attention beyond the pain, the pain becomes a fraction of your total awareness,” they write.

And the quickest way to expand your focus is “to become aware of space,” say Fehmi and Robbins. The book and an accompanying CD include guided exercises that ask if you can imagine the distance between various parts of the body. These exercises supposedly encourage the brain “to produce more of the slower, more rhythmic brainwave frequencies associated with healing, balance, and well-being,” they write.

In contrast, a narrow focus of attention “increases the frequency of our EEG, tenses muscles, and generally makes us more sensitive to pain,” claim the authors.

The book includes many anecdotes of how the attention exercises have helped Fehmi’s patients with back, joint, or other types of pain. However, this reviewer is not aware of any solid research on this mind-body approach.  So it’s up to readers to try the exercises for themselves and see if they help.

Dan Fields is a freelance health writer and former editor in chief of Dr. Andrew Weil’s Self Healing newsletter.  He lives in the Boston area, and his email address is

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  • 1.    Tweets that mention » Ca&hellip  |  October 13th, 2010 at 3:09 PM

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Lisa Neal Gualtieri and Les Fehmi, PhD, Les Fehmi. Les Fehmi said: RT @lisagualtieri: Book review of Dissolving Pain: Simple Brain-Training Exercises for Overcoming Pain : […]

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