3 Minutes with Georgie Oldfield: Practising what I preach

A bout of ill-health 10 years ago made physiotherapy pain specialist Georgie Oldfield realise she had to fundamentally change her approach to life.

How do you keep a work-life balance?

Leading up to 2007, I had a number of recurring health problems. Although I resolved them all quickly, I realised I needed to ‘practise what I preach’ in order to maintain my own health. With so many responsibilities and a personality that tends to create self-induced stress (I can be self-critical, overly-conscientious and perfectionist, for example), I knew maintenance was about prioritising my own self-care and self-compassion.

It is a challenge at times, but I meditate regularly, use expressive writing to offload how I feel, run or walk in nature, set boundaries with my work where I can, and take time out to visit my family in Devon. I’ve decided to move the Stress Illness Recovery Practitioner’s Association (SIRPA) pain relief and recovery training for health professionals online next year. That should also free up some time for me to do some of the other things I love. This includes writing, speaking about this work, and spending more time supporting both patients and health professionals who are interested in this approach.

And you’re planning a conference
Yes. The second SIRPA conference will be held at the Royal Society of Medicine in London on 15 October. For more information, see www.sirpaconference.com Three of our US-based specialists will be speaking about the concepts and approach we use, as well as discussing their own clinical experience and the evidence base. Our guest speaker is the award-winning author and science writer Donna Jackson Nakazawa, who is also from the US. Donna will be speaking about the mass of evidence linking adverse childhood experiences to ill-health in later life, including chronic pain. The feedback from our attendees at the last event was exceptional and I know this is going to be another exciting day.

What prompted you to write a book?
For many years I had been struggling to understand some of the anomalies we see in chronic pain. Finally finding out in 2007 that it is fuelled, and often even triggered by, psychosocial factors created not only an epiphany for me, but life-changing results for so many of my patients. This was the catalyst for my passion for this work.

Sadly, I could find no one in the UK or Europe who knew about this approach, so my ‘training’ came from visiting the US to attend conferences and spend time with some specialists. I began training health professionals in 2010 and also wrote my book, Chronic pain: Your key to recovery, because nothing was available on this side of the Atlantic. I wanted to let people know that help is available in the UK too.

As this approach is primarily an educational and self-empowering one, I also wanted to ensure that there was enough information and plenty of strategies in my book to enable some people to recover on their own, and for readers to know that additional support and guidance was available, if required.

Is your book aimed at patients or health professionals?
Although it is aimed at patients with chronic pain and other persistent conditions, any interested health professional would benefit from reading it. This is because it provides a good understanding of the concept and approach. It also includes a number of self-empowering strategies.

Give us three of the key messages from your book

  1. chronic pain is caused by neuro-physiological changes in the brain and nervous system as part of our primal protective response
  2. cognitive, behavioural, lifestyle and emotional (past and present) factors can reinforce these changes and even trigger them in the first place
  3. understanding, acceptance and using simple, self-empowering strategies frequently results in a full recovery from chronic pain – no matter how longstanding or severe these symptoms have been

Any summer holiday plans?
My husband works in agriculture, so our annual holiday will be in the winter! In the meantime, though, most of my family live in Devon so I enjoy some lovely long weekends with them.

Georgie Oldfield is a physiotherapist whose practice is based in Huddersfield, west Yorkshire. Visitwww.georgieoldfield.com

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