A professor in the medical school is partnering with medical professionals in D.C. and Virginia this month to expand treatment options for patients suffering from chronic pain.
The GW Center for Integrative Medicine and Four Directions Wellness, an Alexandria-based holistic healing company, will offer a low-cost local support group twice a month for people suffering from chronic pain and illness starting on Sept. 12, program leaders said. Leaders of the support group said the Live Fully Support Group will steer patients with chronic pain toward alternatives to drug use and help them manage their illnesses to avoid and stop using addictive, life-threatening painkillers.
Mikhail Kogan, an assistant professor of medicine and the medical director of the center, said there is currently no widely recognized medication to treat many chronic diseases, like Lyme or autoimmune diseases. He said patients will learn about natural remedies – like yoga or meditation – to ease chronic pain symptoms through the group and discuss why strong pain medications are detrimental in the long run.
“What we hope for is that patients can achieve a better quality of life and function better to manage their chronic pain,” Kogan said.
He said peer discussion in group therapy can alleviate many symptoms of chronic pain because patients can work to clearly identify the origin of their pain – which is often an unhealthy lifestyle. Kogan said once a patient starts to correctly address their pain, they can participate in more physical activities that can actually diminish depressive and pain-related symptoms.
“They don’t realize that maybe it’s because they’re not moving enough, or maybe it’s because they have chronic depression and they haven’t been expressing themselves,” he said.
Kogan said typical treatments for chronic pain, like psychotherapy and neurotherapy, are often expensive for patients and can cost $200 a session. But the Live Fully Support Group will cost $45 monthly and patients can attend sessions at both the center on New Hampshire Avenue and Four Directions Wellness locations in Virginia, he said.
Kogan added that all GW staff, faculty and students are eligible for a 20 percent discount on the sessions. All insurance plans, excluding Medicaid, can potentially provide full or partial coverage for the support group, though patients must contact their insurance companies to see if coverage is guaranteed, he said.
Mara Benner, the owner of Four Directions Wellness and one of the leaders for the support group, said patients coping with chronic pain often turn to opioid use, which she said can become addictive to a patient within the first two weeks of use. She said alternative options can help patients find suitable pain management strategies that don’t involve prescription medications, like morphine and oxycontin.
Opioid overdoses accounted for 72,000 deaths of U.S. citizens in 2017, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control. The Trump administration declared opioid misuse as a public health emergency last year.
Benner said teaching relaxation methods, like guided meditation, to patients in group sessions can help them discover other emotions or problems that could be augmenting chronic pain. Healing techniques – like Reiki, the Japanese practice of channeling healing energy through touch – can offer temporary pain relief, she added.
She said people who are interested in joining the Live Fully Support Group can join on Four Directions Wellness’ website.
Elizabeth Goldberg, a group wellness program manager at the center, said conditions involving chronic pain are “invisible,” meaning people suffering from the conditions often appear to be healthy in their day-to-day activities, but they are actually experiencing discomfort.
“I think that being able to have other people reflect back experiences is incredibly powerful, especially when these conditions can be extremely isolating,” she said.