Pain is a Four-Letter Word

chronic painFor medical professionals who work with patients experiencing chronic pain, a 0-10 scale is often used (see the ‘happy/sad face’ chart below ). This is a useful subjective measure of pain, but it’s also a problem. And the problem is that nasty four-letter word “pain.”

As a hypnotist, I teach my clients that words have different levels of power and emotion attached to them. Let’s look at an example. Here are two sentences that mean exactly the same thing, but have different levels of emotion attached to them: 1) The infant perished in the flames. 2) The baby burned to death.

Notice how sentence number two has more emotional punch to it? For those suffering from chronic pain, that simple four-letter word “pain” carries a great deal of negative emotional and psychological freight with it. So here is the chart often seen in different variations in medical settings:


The word pain is repeated six times in this illustration! This puts an awful lot of emphasis on that emotionally charged word. Repetition is actually a hypnotic thing. Did you ever hear one of those car commercials where they repeat the phone number several times very quickly at at the end? They are drilling it into your brain so you will want to call. The chart above is (unfortunately) doing the same thing with the word pain. It puts all your focus on pain and none on the concept of comfort. Note: many versions of the above chart use the word “hurt” instead of “pain” which is a bit better, but still emphasize the negative.

Hypnotists are fond of helping their clients with a process called reframing. Simply put, reframing means taking an idea, concept or problem and seeing it from a different, more helpful perspective. A simple reframe would be looking at the famous half a glass of water and seeing it as half-full instead of half-empty.

What if the chart above asked you how comfortable you were instead?

Comfort-Scale-Graphic copy

The emphasis here is on being comfortable or less-than-comfortable (and the root word comfort even appears in the word discomfort). Labeling the categories such that they are free of the emotionally charged words “pain” or “hurt” can have an impact on the patient’s psychological and emotional perception of his or her subjective comfort level.

If you see a chart like this at your doctor’s office, let him or her know that you would prefer to measure your comfort level instead of pain level. And do your best to eliminate the word pain from your vocabulary. It is, after all, a four-letter word!

Learn more about how you can change your perception of and thinking about chronic pain by visiting the Hypnosis Works! website.