A recent clinical symposium sponsored by Procare focused on the comprehensive needs of patients who experience chronic pain - Conference review introduction. The conference proved to be an exceptional supplement to my knowledge base and repertoire of interventions available when treating this challenging, but very interesting, population. Among the greatest strengths of this educational event was the level of active collaboration among professionals from different fields coming together for a common cause. As doctors, psychologists, and nurses each shared their own perspectives of expertise, I quickly realized the need for a team-approach to best serve people with chronic pain. The welcoming environment of the symposium ignited an interactive approach to learning. This allowed me the freedom to ask questions, network with professionals, and enjoy one-on-one conversations with other participants. The presentations were well organized and ensured optimal use of our time. Most importantly, the speakers and the material they presented motivated me to further my learning and professional growth after the conclusion of the conference. The only potential weakness of this symposium might have been its brevity. With so much information and so many knowledgeable contributing professionals, a multi-day event would have been extraordinary!
My personal background with this population is hinged on a holistic health perspective. I have less experience with intricate, medical-based procedures, but was interested in learning about the usefulness of these interventions and their effects on my patients. Approaching the assessment and treatment of chronic pain systematically is a valuable perspective that I can apply right away. Following the presentation led by Dr. Davis, I have a firm grasp on the Pain Assessment Matrix (PAM) and what each of the different levels represent. The goal to surpass merely stabilizing patients with chronic pain and seek optimal functioning is one I professionally share with this colleague. With this approach in mind, the need to carefully monitor a patient’s change in pain levels is even more apparent. In my previous work with patients, I have included questions to gauge their levels of pain. I now realize the importance of assessing these levels regularly, documenting them, and interpreting changes.
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My role as a counselor peaked my interest in the presentation led by Dr. Story titled Personality Styles and Communication. Initially concerned that this presentation might only review the basics of personality for professionals less familiar with the mental health field, I was pleasantly surprised by the breadth of information provided in this seminar. The distinction between personality style and disorder is extremely important. Dr. Story provided numerous examples to solidify this point and I gained from the practical advice that I can immediately apply when working with my patients. While I frequently empathize with the feelings of my patients, this presenter reminded me to also express empathy with their thoughts.
The presentation by Dr. Gostine on Nutrition and Somatic Disorders was also very beneficial to my development as a holistic professional. While I rarely discuss nutrition with my patients, Dr. Gostine’s presentation made it clear that this subject is extremely influential in the lives, health, and disease development of this population. The scientific details were at times difficult to grasp, but I learned the truth behind several commonly health misconceptions about nutrition. The high rate of Vitamin D deficiency among patients with chronic pain is extremely interesting. I’m still considering ways to address the importance of nutrition with my patients without stepping beyond my scope of practice. Finding qualified nutritionists for referral seems like a viable option.
Some of the presentations allowed me to consider interesting questions from my perspective as a mental health professional. During the presentation on Neuroaxial Analgesia, it was suggested that only people without a psychological illness are considered candidates for this pain management approach. Because I know psychological symptomatology may not be obvious and most healthcare facilities fail to fully assess patients, I wondered what occurs when a patient who is given a morphine pump later presents psychological symptoms. Given the long list of side effects associated with neuroaxial analgesics, it would be challenging to determine the cause of erratic behavior. The interaction between mental and medical health is complex and intriguing.
I remained motivated throughout and after the conference to learn as much as possible about how to effectively treat patients with chronic pain. There were several moments, especially during the presentation on complications, where I realized just how much I have yet to learn. Just as medical professionals should have an understanding of the mental health needs of their patients, it is the responsibility of counselors to remain up to date on the medical symptoms, treatments, and potential complications experienced by their patients. These experiences are not left outside the door of the therapy room and this symposium allowed me to bridge the gap in my understanding of these issues. I am appreciative of the opportunity to meet a number of encouraging professionals and further develop my skills as a counselor. I’m looking forward to applying the skills I learned to work with my clients and have already begun to continue the growth started from this experience.