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Fighting pain

Patty Bullick
 (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Patty Bullick (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Laura Umthun Correspondent

As a chronic pain sufferer, Patty Bullick knows the struggles and challenges chronic pain can bring.

After she broke her wrist in 1991, doctors knew there was nerve damage and diagnosed her condition as reflex sympathetic dystrophy.

Intense physical therapy eventually restored the use of her hand, but Bullick felt compelled to better understand how chronic pain affects the physical, psychological, social and spiritual dimensions of life.

Bullick, who has a graduate degree in social work from Eastern Washington University and is an Idaho-licensed clinical social worker, studied chronic pain as part of her master’s degree research.

As a result of her personal pain experiences, which also included two neck surgeries and a broken arm, Bullick became passionate about helping people eliminate chronic pain suffering from their lives.

She voluntarily started a free eight-session Chronic Pain Support Group last year. Classes are held on the first and third Thursdays of every month from 5 to 6:30 p.m. at Kootenai Medical Center. The primary focus of the group is to educate chronic pain sufferers on how to cope with this challenging condition.

Sessions include What is Chronic Pain; Coping with Pain; Stress Management and Relaxation Techniques; Dealing with Anger, Depression, Suffering and Grief; Identifying Strengths/Positive Thinking; Adjusting to Chronic Pain; Therapies; and an Overview of Learning.

Chronic pain causes stress, loss of employment, relationship problems, sleep problems and emotional suffering. These problems only exacerbate chronic pain symptoms.

Although most people associate pain with suffering, Bullick says psychological assessment and behavioral therapy can diminish the impact of pain on the emotions and teach more effective ways of coping with the symptoms of pain.

“Pain assessments identify the key factors that may delay a patient’s recovery from chronic pain, illness or disease,” she says.

Assessments also reveal primary copying skills, personality style, and possible behavioral goals which can assist the medical team in providing more effective treatment.

“The role of assessment and behavioral therapy is essential to an interdisciplinary approach in pain management and has been proven in clinical studies to improve the quality of life for chronic pain patients,” Bullick says.

Cindy Wright attended Bullick’s support group a year ago. At that time Wright was suffering from RSD, and chronic pain was wearing her down.

“Patty got me feeling human again,” Wright says. “She wasn’t just a teacher, she touched my life personally. I recommend the Chronic Pain Support Group highly to anyone who is suffering from chronic pain.”

Participants can come to any support group session they choose, but because enrollment is limited, are encouraged to pre-register.

Bullick has more than 15 years of counseling and coaching experience with specialties in pain management counseling, grief and loss, hospice and palliative care, family therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy and stress management.

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