What is the difference between useful and useless pain?


Understanding Pain

One of the things hypnotherapy can help with is to reduce or eliminate useless and unnecessary chronic pain. We teach all of our students how to do this. It is something many of our hypnotherapy clients seek our help with.

Of course appropriate and competent medical and physical evaluation should always be undertaken, before trying to eliminate pain, because pain can be a signal that something is wrong.

Before attempting to relieve your own, or others pain, ask if that pain is of any use to you? Ask, if you were free of the pain, would that be detrimental to you in any way?

If the answer to these questions is "no", then you may wish to engage in strategies that help relieve or eliminate pain.

That process begins by better understanding pain. Here we highlight the key difference between acute and chronic pain. In other blog posts from us you will learn how it is possible to change our experience of pain, and gain a sense of control over it.

The Problem of Chronic Pain

Chronic pain, whether physical or emotional, remains a significant burden for both individuals and society.

Standard medical treatment for chronic pain is often inadequate, and it is common for frustrated patients to seek costly treatments from multiple health care professionals, often without significant relief.

Growing awareness of the limitations of currently available pain treatments make the use of suggestion-based techniques and self-hypnosis an attractive component of pain treatment.

The empirical support for hypnosis for chronic pain management has flourished over the past two decades. 

Clinical trials show that hypnosis, and also self-hypnosis, are effective for reducing chronic pain, although outcomes vary between individuals. (1)

The findings from these clinical trials also show that hypnotic treatments have a number of positive effects beyond pain control. (2)

They can be significantly less expensive than standard approaches (3)

Despite this many hypnotherapists, as well as practitioners of other therapeutic approaches, do not have a clear approach to dealing with stubborn pain conditions.

We want to help change that. It is likely that at some point each of us will either be in pain, or be in a position where we would like to help someone else stop suffering. We believe it is within the range of the human experience to reduce some of that suffering. You just need to know how.

The nature of the techniques that can help are simple. Even if you are a complete beginner, that does not put you at any disadvantage. The techniques are easy to learn and apply. It is not certainly necessary to be a hypnotherapist to use them. 

We encourage everyone who wishes to to familiarise themselves with these principles to do so.

What is pain?

Obviously we all know what pain is. However if we are to help alleviate it, it is useful if we can first define or describe pain. This allows us to examine what makes it up and target our intervention accordingly. The clinical psychologist and renowned expert in chronic pain Dr. Bruce Eimer defined it this way in his excellent book on the subject.

Pain is a subjective experience, that normally feels unpleasant, like something in the body has been, or is being damaged or destroyed; that feels like a threat to or interference with one’s ongoing functionality and health; and that is associated with negative emotions, such as fear, anxiety, anger or depression. (4)

This definition acknowledges that pain contains several elements

1. Bodily sensation, with qualities like those experienced during or after tissue-damaging stimulation.

2. An experienced threat or interference with functionality associated with this sensation.

3.An emotional feeling of unpleasantness or other negative emotions.

In other words, pain has a sensory / physical component and an affective / emotional component. They are often intertwined within the experience of pain.

One of the keys to relieving pain is to disentangle these two components:
the sensory / physical from the affective / emotional.

Pain may be mandatory, but suffering, or some portion of it, is it seems optional. Without the emotional element reduced, what is left of the sensation simply does not hurt as much. This definition of pain does not require you or anyone else to objectively demonstrate it. It places importance on the felt experience of the person in pain.

It does not require that an association be made between the unpleasant sensation and tissue damage. Your experience of pain is validated by you, and can be verified by you, even in the absence of tissue damage. This makes 'emotional pain' a useful term.

Also it does not eliminate the possibility that the pain is because of tissue damage. It does not over-emphasise physical factors, at the expense of psychological ones. Pain is neither all in ones head, nor all in ones body. 

The important thing to understand is that our experience of pain has a large subjective component to it, and it is this which you are able to learn to modify.

The next important step is to understand the difference between acute pain and chronic pain.

What is Acute Pain?

This is pain that is of recent origin. The immediate pain when you stub your toe or burn yourself is acute. The new pain from a recent injury is acute. With appropriate care and treatment acute pain is supposed to subside. 

Acute pain keeps us from destroying ourselves. It is 'useful' pain. When pain lasts beyond that time, beyond it's usefulness, it is considered to be chronic pain.

What is Chronic Pain?

This is persistent pain that has outlived it’s usefulness. It has lasted past the point of needing to alerted to a danger, threat or injury needing to be tended to, corrected or escaped. 

It is pain that has not responded to appropriate medical care. 

It is unrelenting and unremitting. It is often out of proportion in its intensity and disruption.

It is by definition useless and unnecessary pain, and it is this that we can safely reduce or eliminate.

One of the strategies we share at The Jacquin Hypnosis Academy is The Arrow Technique. You can learn how to use this technique by watching our in-depth video training all about it inside our hypnosis training platform. You can trial our training platform for free for 14 days. That is more than enough time to master this technique.


(1) Hypnosis for the Relief and Control of Pain. American Psychological Association, July 2, 2004 

(2) Patterson, D. R., & Jensen, M. P. (2003). Hypnosis and clinical pain. Psychological Bulletin, Vol. 129, pp. 495-521.

(3) Lang, E. V., & Rosen, M. P. (2002). Cost analysis of adjunct hypnosis with sedation during outpatient interventional radiologic procedures. Radiology, 222, pp. 375-82.

(4) 2008. Eimer. Bruce. N. Hypnotize Yourself Out of Pain Now! Crown.