Here’s my latest column for the Pain News Network!
Biofeedback is probably the closest thing to having actual superpowers. To quote the Mayo Clinic, it’s “a technique you can use to learn to control your body’s functions, such as your heart rate” by using electrical sensors to “receive information (feedback) about your body (bio).”
In theory, this can help you learn to control things like muscle relaxation, which often helps to lessen pain.
What if you want to go deeper than that, though?
In my own experience as a chronic pain patient, I’ve come to realize that much of pain — or rather, the compounding of pain — is emotionally derived. It can be stress from work, an argument with a spouse, dreading a rent payment, or anything else that thrills against your nerves. How does one separate the emotional aspect of pain from the physical? How do you know when you’re being your own worst enemy?
You look inward.
Somehow my father stumbled across the Emotional Insight app and sent it my way. I was very curious, as it seemed comparable to biofeedback. But how did it work without wires and electrical sensors? The price tag surprised me — $49.95 for the app — and so I reached out to the makers of the program, Possibility Wave, to ask if I could take it for a test drive.
Soon enough I found myself Skypeing with the delightful Garnet Dupuis, one of the founders of Possibility Wave and the creator of the app. He hails from Canada but now lives in Thailand with his wife, and I could hear the sounds of the jungle when we spoke. Suffice it to say he is a cool guy.
When processing experiences, Mr. Dupuis said, “It’s helpful to say it to somebody. A person begins a process of self-reflection even just by talking into a mirror.”
When asked how this relates to the app, Dupuis told me that it does exactly what it says on the tin: It provides emotional insight. “Something about declaration” helps people come to terms with things, he says.
In other words, just talk it out.
Clients have reported as much progress and growth in two to three app sessions as they would achieve in one to two years of actual therapy. As Dupuis says, “these are like quick spiritual experiences.” He calls Emotional Insight a form of “neurofeedback,” which made more sense to me; when I played with the app, I found it had nothing to do with the body and everything to do with the mind. Even so, “it’s a little bit like exercise,” Dupuis said — as in, the more you work at it, the more you can discover about yourself.
This app is all about sharing information. Technically speaking, improvements could be made; there is so much data that at times the app freezes, and talking out loud can be impractical. That is when I realized this app was not made to be used on a train while traveling somewhere or while standing in line at the bank. This is literally a pocket therapist, but the therapist is the user.
It surprised me constantly, like a shrewd psychic, but in reality I was only talking with myself. Not only does it make you type out a problem, but it makes you repeat it aloud. This irritated me until I realized that I was resisting saying it out loud, because somehow, saying it out loud is harder.
When you open the app, you have three choices in terms of sessions. I chose “Spontaneous Insight.” You are prompted to speak aloud and identify the issue you want to explore.
This is when it becomes stranger. The voice analysis program does not pick up words you say; rather, it picks up thetones in which they were said and matches it to certain emotional responses. So if I say, “I regret the loss of the person I used to be,” it brings back three “clues” regarding the emotions behind my speech: longing, gladness, uneasiness.
The app brought up the fact that I am a workaholic. Considering I have a full-time job and still do things on the side, I would say that’s accurate. It told me to compose an “I” sentence with one of those clues. Somehow I came up with: “I’m glad my pain is getting worse because I’m a workaholic.” What? I am in no way glad about having pain, but I also know that I will run and run and run like the Energizer Bunny until I die, because I refuse to let my pain dictate my life.
By insisting that I don’t need help and that I can function like other people, I am making myself worse. It will take an outside force to make me stop. I have to admit to myself that I am not like other people anymore. I can’t do everything that I used to do. I have to mourn that loss and begin again.
Then the app essentially asks: “What are you going to do about it?”
I was squirming now, uncomfortable with what I was saying. “I need to stop working so hard in order to deal with my pain.”
The app then plays Sonic Signatures and the Crystalline Strategy, which I honestly do not understand. They are coded sound signatures that represent certain remedies, and you are supposed to listen to them a few times each day in order to reinforce what you have learned. It sounds like a whole store full of wind chimes and the signals of a lost radio station. There is a YouTube video that explains these “sound drops” (like herbal tinctures for your ears, if you will).
“The app never tells you what to do,” Mr. Dupuis said to me in our Skype chat. “It guides you, but you have to declare it to yourself.” That being said, the app is as enlightening an experience as you make it. For me, it brought up several things I have been avoiding; it was a strange experience, because I like to think that I face my problems directly. However, I learned that this is very far from the truth.
Mr. Dupuis was intrigued that I am a columnist for a pain-related publication and that I wanted to use the app in this way. “Everybody hurts in one way or another,” he said.
Pain can compound for a variety of reasons. This app is a way for people to face what is haunting them, whatever that ghost might be.