Why I Hate Therapy-Talk

Pain Rating

In massage school, as in other helpnik places, they coach you to ask clients to rate the pain they are feeling on the ever-reliable scale of One To Ten.

As if we needed another layer of precious artificiality between people who are suffering and the people who are supposed to be trying to help them.

I had a lady — obviously therapy-broken — come by this evening with a compound spasm in her right-side neck muscles that she gravely reassured me could go all the way up to “an eight” at intervals during the day. I think we frittered away the first five minutes of her appointment assigning numerical values to the problem.

I have always preferred to rely on “It’s a little sore but I can live with it,” “It makes me catch my breath,” or “It hurts like f**k when I do this.”


5 thoughts on “Why I Hate Therapy-Talk

  1. “Son of a biiiiiitch!” was the phrase I remember using when taking advantage of your services. My back hurt that bad, and no one had helped me until you spent about ten minutes on the area.

    I felt better. I was convinced that I could make real headway at a recovery too. I wish I could book an appointment with you next week.

  2. I have never been able to successfully translate the feeling of pain, the ultimate reality, into a number, the ultimate abstraction, and this was required of me several times today during therapy on my injured left hand. I think you would be qualified to develop a new scale of pain, call it the Sledpress System, that would assign descriptive adjectives or adverbs to the various levels of pain, and you would probably want to assign different descriptions to different disorders or parts of the body. This is a serious suggestion, not a joke.

    • The challenge would be to find a vocabulary equally accessible to everyone. I talk like a sailor’s parrot most days; then there’s my chiropractor, Dr. Bill. Not until he suffered a frozen shoulder — a problematic injury for a chiropractor — did I find out exactly what words he learned in the Army.

      It would probably work best if you asked people what tasks they could perform while tolerating a certain level of pain: could you concentrate on a book? Could you carry on a make-nice conversation with someone who didn’t need to hear about the pain? Could you drive? Could you tune it out and sleep?

      Then there are the fascinating questions of pain experience vs. tolerance. Some people who register pain more readily also take a lot longer to holler uncle, probably from long experience having to function through pain, as above.

  3. I reckon my 5 is more like most people’s 8, but then I’m just guessing.

    When someone says their pain is an 8 then that is really only meaningful to them. As you say, things like “I can’t walk on it” or “it keeps me from sleeping” are more generally understood.

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