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Health

Challenging 'talking therapies' on fear and pain

No matter what we do, fear and pain are part of life. But the Grinberg Method - which is taking off in Berlin - says we should focus on fear and pain rather than avoid them.

Whether it's stubbing a big toe, suffering chronic pain, or struggling with the loss of a loved one, we experience fear and pain both emotionally and physically.

If we go to a physiotherapist or a psychologist, they're likely to only treat one or the other symptom - the physical pain or the stress.

But the Grinberg Method says that by changing our attitude to pain and fear, we can address those physical symptoms, while at the same time improving our emotional and mental wellbeing.

"Worse than the pain itself"

Jörg Seifarth is a German project manager and professional climber. Last year he started suffering from severe elbow pain and tried everything from physiotherapy and painkillers. But after 6 months he was afraid he'd damaged his elbow permanently and began to despair.

"My personal reaction to the pain was actually worse than the pain itself because it kept me from working out hard and it frustrated me and it was really depressing," says Seifarth.

Then he took part in a Grinberg Method chronic pain project in Berlin.

Seifarth found the method quite unconventional at first, but the pain was almost gone after the sessions. He learned new techniques, which he has integrated into his warm-ups.

A Grinberg practitioner with a patient or 'client'. (Photo: Ernst Lalleman)

The Grinberg Method is a physical discipline that asks 'clients' to focus on the pain

Other people came in suffering migraines, lower back pain, neck pain, shoulder pain and knee pain. Three months after the project ended 72 percent of the 180 participants reported that their pain was still significantly reduced.

"Often when we have pain we hold our breath and try not to move in a way that would create more pain, and a lot of times exactly this kind of effort is what makes the pain stay and get worse," says Emily Poel, a Berlin-based Grinberg practitioner who worked on the project.

Practitioners try to show their "clients" where they are holding a particular tension or "effort" against pain. They then ask them to hold it and exaggerate it. The aim is to teach the person to recognize what their muscles have been doing automatically so that they can stop the reaction in future.

"It's much more than just awareness," says another Grinberg practitioner, Eylam Langotsky, "It's a physical discipline."

Practitioners then teach their clients ways to deal with the pain and fear, which include breathing and relaxation techniques and how to move in different ways.

Teaching vs. fixing

The Grinberg Method was founded by Avi Grinberg in the 1980s. He had trained as a nurse and studied many different disciplines, including reflexology, yoga and martial arts.

But after working with people suffering from chronic health problems for a number of years, Grinberg began asking a different set of questions.

Langotsky says the method is about teaching rather than "fixing" people - and that requires different questions.

"Which kind of tools should we give people? Which kind of discipline should they train in order to get better? And how can they take back the responsibility over their bodies and into their own hands, while the practitioner is actually guiding them, rather than healing them," says Langotsky.

Grinberg clients say the method also helps them reconnect with their bodies.

Just as we try to avoid feeling pain - we also tend to avoid things that

scare us - but they happen anyway. Whether it's a car crash, an abusive relationship, the death of a loved one, or dealing with personal failure - all these things can leave emotional and physical scars that affect our confidence and our relationships with others.

A Grinberg practitioner with a patient or 'client'. (Photo: The Grinberg Method Germany)

Grinberg says we need to change the way we relate to fear and pain

Anna Schmutte tried Chi Gong, Tai Chi, yoga, homeopathy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy before trying the Grinberg Method. She says all the other disciplines and therapies helped her up to a point but that the Grinberg Method has given her more practical tools to gain strength and clarity in her life.

"When I started I felt much more a victim of circumstances in many situations than I feel now. I have so many tools now. It's just not an option for me anymore to see myself as weak," says Schmutte.

Mind and body

While traditional psychology and psychiatry focus on a person's history and re-telling the story of an event, the Grinberg Method aims to teach people how to identify how stressful events were originally experienced by the body - and how those events continue to manifest themselves in bodily reactions like holding one's breath or tensing certain areas.

"It's not that we are teaching a person to be confident, but we know that if they will stop their insecurities they will be naturally confident," says Vered Manasse, who runs the Grinberg School with Claudia Glowik in Berlin. "So if we're looking at people who went through abusive trauma in childhood, it's not that I have to teach them to be stronger, but I have to teach them how to stop becoming insecure in certain situations and how to stop interpreting a situation today as if it's something that happened in the past."

Glowik also heads the International Association of Grinberg Practitioners. She says it's important to help people reclaim their bodies as a means of dealing with fear.

"You can imagine that with such a history, people have a very disturbed way of how to relate to their own body. There was so much pain inflicted and it's very clear that certain symptoms developed through the years because of that kind of history," says Glowik.

No substitute

But this method is not for everyone. Different people require different kinds of help.

Glowik says the Grinberg Method is no substitute for medical treatment or psychological help - and when necessary, practitioners refer their clients to the appropriate professionals.

"The Grinberg Method is not like a recipe against fear or that you will never be insecure again in your life. It doesn't teach you something that you can now believe in and do it always like that," says Schmutte. "Actually what you learn is that you take responsibility for yourself in whichever situation you encounter in your life. And this means a lot of independence, a lot of freedom, and a lot of self-discipline."

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