Christie Uipi (LCSW) is a recovered chronic pain patient and psychotherapist who focuses on treating pain via a holistic approach and mind-body techniques. Christie has worked with pioneers in the pain field, such as Alan Gordon and Howard Schubiner. Christie is licensed in California, Colorado, Connecticut, and Nevada.
Q: You focus on self-compassion and chronic pain. Which did you start studying first, and what about that field grabbed your attention?
A: My focus on chronic pain came before my focus on self-compassion, but it’s worth mentioning that I was a chronic pain patient before I became a chronic pain clinician.
I can trace my various mindbody symptoms back to childhood, but I experienced the majority of my chronic pain symptoms in graduate school while pursuing my Masters in Social Work. If you were to catch me on any given day of my first year of graduate school, you’d find me with a heating pack on my neck, wrist braces on both my wrists, knee supports on both my legs, and a whole host of medications in my backpack. I was hurting all over.
I was lucky enough to land an internship at the Pain Psychology Center in Los Angeles during my second year of my MSW program, by which time I had declared a clinical focus and had plans to become a psychotherapist. While working with the team at the PPC, I learned the foundation for chronic pain recovery through the lens of a clinician and worked steadily to apply it all to myself as a patient. I was doing double duty there for a while!
Q: Amazing that you’ve been able to recover and now are helping others experience the same relief. And what made you connect self-compassion and chronic pain? Are there specific ways the two relate to each other?
A: Self-compassion feels directly linked to chronic pain treatment because the ways in which we relate to our pain symptoms are often the ways in which we relate to ourselves and the world around us. If we respond to our symptoms with frustration, pressure, or intensity, it’s often because we respond to our everyday lives in that way, too. Recovering from pain requires an exploration of the ways in which we treat ourselves, and a willingness to soften to ourselves in the same way we must soften to our pain symptoms.
Q: Why is self-compassion so important for managing chronic pain?
A: Many patients and clinicians understand that fear and pain are intimately connected. The more we fear our symptoms, the more we have pain. The more we have pain, the more we fear our symptoms (and the possibility that they will never end). This vicious loop is called the “Pain-Fear Cycle.” Responding to our symptoms, ourselves, or the world around us with intensity or harshness can keep us in a state of fight-or-flight, and make it impossible to calm our nervous systems down enough to achieve relief.
I believe self-compassion is so important for managing and recovering from chronic pain because treating yourself with care and kindness interrupts this Pain-Fear Cycle. You can master meditation, do daily deep-dives into your journal, and practice all the positive affirmations in the world, but none of these techniques will be as effective as fundamentally helping your nervous system feel calmer and more regulated. Self-compassion is a path to teaching your brain and body to prioritize feeling safe.
Q: How do you recommend practicing self-compassion for chronic pain management? Are there new tools that are in development that are promising?
A: There are always going to be new tips and tricks for managing chronic pain, and chronic pain patients often feel like they need to read every book, practice every meditation, and get every step of the recovery journey “right.”
But for me, the key to long-lasting recovery is more about building a foundation of self-kindness and less about following a recovery instruction manual. On any given day, treating yourself kindly might mean meditating for 10 minutes, it might mean taking a walk, or it might mean drawing a bubble bath. What might feel good to me might feel bad to the next person. What might feel calming today might feel agitating tomorrow. Attending to your specific, ever-changing needs in real time is, in my opinion, the most important way you can practice self compassion and achieve chronic pain relief.
The more we practice relying on our internal compasses to guide our choices, the more we grow our mental flexibility, which will ultimately lessen the pressure to do everything “right.” Throwing out the “shoulds,” (“I should be journaling right now, I should be out of pain by now, I shouldn’t need to still be in therapy”) is a great first step.
Q: When you aren’t studying chronic pain and self-compassion, how do you like to spend your time?
A: If I’m not seated at my desk, you’ll find me on the move. My profession constantly engages my brain, so my downtime is usually spent taking care of my body. Plus, after nearly a decade of debilitating chronic pain and stillness, I vowed to never take the privilege of my healthy and able body for granted again. I love to hike and run and try new fitness challenges. I also have a fantastically curious toddler who refuses to sit in the same place for more than 45 seconds, so that definitely helps.
Q: What three things (books, articles, twitter posts, YouTube channel, song, etc.), would you recommend chronic pain patients and clinicians check out?
A: Like Mind, Like Body: A collection of interviews from researchers, authors, and providers in the field of mindbody medicine (hosted by Laura Seago). This podcast is great for patients and practitioners alike.
Tame the Beast: A brief but comprehensive explanation of chronic pain and its causes, put together by clinical scientist Lorimer Moseley. This is a great clip to send to patients who are just starting to explore the mindbody connection.
Calm: A collection of meditations and relaxation exercises to help with anxiety, sleep and mental fitness. I love all the different options - it feels like a library of ways to calm yourself in any given situation.
Check Out Christie's Work
Go to Christie's site to learn more about her journey to recovery, her research on chronic pain, or how to contact her.