Phil de la Haye is a former teacher, business owner, community choir leader, and author. He is now also a life coach and SIRPA practitioner. Phil specializes in the mindbody connection and in helping clients who have chronic pain or other stress related symptoms. Phil is a transgender man and has two young adult kids, two cats and a dog. He lives with his family in South Gloucestershire in the UK.
Q: Hi Phil! Thanks for taking the time to chat with us. So I hear that you have a story about healing your own chronic pain. Could you share a bit about that and how it impacted your work in the pain management field?
A: I had a long history of unexplained pain symptoms, which gradually got more persistent and severe over the years. It started as lower back pain when I was in my early twenties, and then it was one thing after another as it spread all over my body – to my hips, neck, shoulders, wrists, ankles etc. It went from being intermittent with pain-free patches, until gradually the pain-free gaps got shorter and shorter and the pain eventually became constant.
By the start of 2020, I was at a very low point in my life. I had widespread musculoskeletal pain, along with some nerve pain, numbness, and muscle weakness (particularly in my arms and hands). I’d lost any hope of it ever getting better, and was very fearful because it seemed to be getting progressively worse. I knew that if I sought a diagnosis I’d probably be told I had fibromyalgia, because I met the criteria. But I didn’t want to be labelled with that condition, because I didn’t see the point when the medical model tells us that it’s incurable.
Discovering the mindbody connection helped me get my life back. I’ve massively reduced my symptoms over the 18 months that I’ve been doing the mindbody work myself and things are still improving all the time. There have been huge benefits for my mental health too, and improvements in non-pain symptoms such as anxiety, brain fog and my quality of sleep.
I decided to re-train as a life coach and SIRPA practitioner because I wanted to pass on the knowledge and techniques that helped me transform my own life.
Q: That’s great that things are looking up! And as a person with chronic pain and a life coach, are there any challenges to helping people in pain that stand out to you? And why are you optimistic about conquering those challenges?
I think one of the biggest challenges is getting the word out to people and changing the paradigm around how chronic pain is viewed. So many people (including a lot of clinicians) don’t understand the mindbody connection and don’t realise how helpful it can be to address the psychosocial factors involved in the creation and perpetuation of stress-related symptoms.
When working with clients who do understand the mindbody connection, there is usually a lot of work to do around cementing their belief in their ability to recover. Many clients accept the theory, and believe that it has helped other people. But they often fear that it won’t work for them, or that they don’t have the inner resources and commitment needed to ‘do the work’.
I’m confident that even the most skeptical and fearful clients can make progress once they dial down their negative self-talk, and focus on making small but sustainable changes towards healing. Self-compassion is a huge part of healing, so being kind and patient towards themselves during the process is really important too.
Q: One area of chronic pain that does not get enough attention is the relationship between the LGBTQ+ experience and pain symptoms. Can you speak to that association and ways to manage those symptoms?
I would love to see some research done into the prevalence of chronic stress-related symptoms and conditions in the LGBTQ+ community. From my own observations, I believe that the rates of chronic pain and other stress illness are higher than average in the queer and trans communities. This would make sense, because we know that chronic pain has a direct correlation with ACEs (adverse childhood experiences). The majority of queer/trans kids grow up with at least some level of fear and uncertainty about whether they will be supported and accepted by their families and communities. Sadly, many LGBTQ+ kids don’t get loving, unconditional support and are sometimes rejected by their families, or at least have a lot of conflict with them. Also LGBTQ+ people frequently experience discrimination (at an individual or systemic level), harassment and abuse. So, it’s not surprising this trauma would be reflected in higher rates of chronic stress-related conditions within the queer and trans communities.
As a trans man, I’ve come to understand how my own personal struggle with identity was part of what created the chronic stress that led to my own symptoms. I didn’t come out until I was 45 years old. For many years I’d buried and ignored a feeling that something wasn’t right, and that unconscious repression of my authenticity created a huge amount of internal stress, which I couldn’t make sense of. Once I began to explore the reason for my long-term dysphoria, and realised what was going on, there was huge fear for me about coming out and what that would mean for me. It’s no coincidence that my symptoms worsened exponentially around this time.
If I’d known then what I know now, I would have had the tools to help me manage things better. At the time I didn’t understand why my body was “failing me.” I was terrified. The more I worried about the symptoms, and the more things I did to try and fix them, the worse they got. I wish I’d known that meditation, breathwork and expressive journalling (among other things) would have had far more effect!
Q: When you are not working on helping people manage their pain, what do you do for fun?
I have a dog, so I love walking her and getting out in nature as often as possible. I also enjoy running, open water swimming, playing the piano, and hanging out with my family.