Q&A: Explaining TMS to friends and family

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I keep encountering friends and family whom I'm convinced are exhibiting symptoms that are “classic TMS.” Most of my efforts to explain the subject are generally met with lots of eye-rolling. Is there a “best” way to try and help these people?

Answer by John Stracks, MD

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Practitioner Johns Stracks

Dr. Stracks' Profile Page / Survey Response / Bio Page / Psychophysiologic Disorders Association (PPDA) Board Member

When I first started my medical training, I thought I could simply tell people about TMS and have them say, “Great. Thanks. I feel so much better now.” It only took a couple of eye-rolling incidents for me to figure out that I needed a more nuanced approach.

I think the most important part of what I do when I talk about TMS with a patient who hasn't heard of the concept before is to normalize the process. I take a lot of time talking about how natural the mind-body process is and how human beings probably evolved to express difficult emotions through our bodies. If I meet more than just a little resistance, I tend to back off and go in a different direction. If people seem interested, then I'll talk about it more.

Another thing to keep in mind is that not everyone is ready to hear the message of TMS. Classically, there are 5 stages in behavior change:

  1. Precontemplation (“Never heard of TMS”)
  2. Contemplation (“I've heard of it, but I don't think it applies to my “real” pain)
  3. Preparation (“Well, maybe it does apply to me; I wonder what I can do about it.”)
  4. Action (“Wow, that's me in Dr. Sarno's book!”)
  5. Maintenance (“Ow! My back hurts. I wonder what I'm angry about.”)

In medical practice, we often think of moving people from one stage to the next, not from stage 1 to stage 5 all at once. Sometimes all you can do initially is introduce the concept. It may take days, weeks, months, or even years before your loved one is ready to pick up a copy of The Mindbody Prescription much less take action. Be patient, even though that patience is extraordinarily difficult.

Finally, keep in mind that, in the end, we can only control ourselves and not anyone else, and I often refer people to the work of Byron Katie (www.thework.com) for information and practical tips about this. Often times, the best way to convince others about the worth of TMS treatment is by being walking, living, breathing examples of its benefits.

So, while there's no one “best” technique for talking with friends and family about TMS, these are the things I would keep in mind

  • Raise the topic gently
  • Try to normalize the mind-body process
  • Don't push if you meet resistance; you can always try again later
  • Sometimes people aren't ready to hear the message or are only ready to hear part of the message
  • Remember that in the end, you can't control what other people are going to think and believe. You can provide the information, but in the end it's their own decision what to do with the information.

Hope that helps.


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