Virtual Gallery

Selected piece:

My piece is a song called “Head Above Water” by Avril Lavigne. I discovered this song a couple years ago and felt more connected to it as a depiction of mental health struggles, but it was actually written about her struggle with the chronic pain associated with Lyme disease. I like the song a lot so I chose to evaluated it as a depiction of chronic pain

What about the art made you think that it is expressing a pain experience?

This song strikes me as one that depicts one person reaching out to their God for strength. There are no other people (family/friends) mentioned in the song. This makes me thing that the song is depicting a pain experience for 2 reasons. First, I think many people who are religious and are experiencing pain reach out to their God for strength because especially with chronic pain there may be no way to completely abolish the pain so reaching out to a bigger entity may offer additional comfort that cannot be found elsewhere. Secondly, pain is an extremely personal experience a person may struggle to make others understand exactly how they feel and so I think only having the one person referenced in the song helps to represent how alone a person who is experiencing pain may feel. Family and friends, and even HCPs may be there to help and support, but it can feel like they don’t truly understand what the individual is going through

I don’t want to dissect the lyrics of the song too much, but if you listen to the song you will hear the general tone is one of pleading and desperation. I think especially in the context of chronic pain individuals who are in pain often feel desperate to have the pain stop or desperate to have the strength to till go about their daily lives with the pain weighing them down. Additionally, the imagery of drowning that is conveyed in the lyrics is a very powerful choice in my opinion and I think it is a good metaphor for how pain can feel.

How did the interpretation of your chosen artwork help you to understand the human pain experience?

I am not super religious, so I think this song helps to remind me that although I may not use faith as a way to cope with pain, I may have patients that do rely heavily on that practice and as a HCP I shouldn’t let my feeling about faith impact how I help a patient. I will have to recognize that they value that and not let the differences in our values impact the success of our sessions. I don’t think I will struggle to do that, but it is something I think I will have to keep in the back of my head when I am interacting with patients that do value faith and religion.

I also think that it is important for me to keep in mind that pain is super personal. Although to me it may not look like a patient should be in as much pain as they are saying, for them that pain is real and they may feel like they are drowning. Respecting how a patient describes their pain and being open tot adjusting your session plans based on how a patient is feeling is important. Yes we should still encourage patients to do what they can, keeping their pain experience in mind is important. I have been the patient who had 8/10 pain despite no physical signs that would give an indication that there is a cause of that pain. It is super frustrating and confusing as a patient to just have inexplicable pain and not have anyone believe that you are in pain just makes those emotions worse. Part of the reason I want to be a PT is to help people who feel debilitated by pain or injury so keeping reflections like this in mind moving forward will be helpful.


What do you guys think is most important for us as PT’s to understand about pain?

I think based on my reflection (just in case it isn’t 100% clear) that my answer is that the pain experience is unique to each individual, and that we as PT have to recognize that and not treat every patient with a certain condition the same way. Sure, there may be similarities but, we cant ignore the unique struggles that individuals have and despite our best efforts, we may not ever fully understand what they are going through.


  1. Krista, you make some good points in this post! I think that as PT’s it is crucial that we can appreciate how subjective the pain experience can be. Some people are dealing with high levels of chronic pain for extended periods of time and thus can manage and seem “okay,” whereas others do not have a long history of pain and thus even things we may deem as “not that big of a deal” might be excruciating for them. I do also like your point that some patients will use their religious faith to cope with their struggles. It is important that we aren’t dismissive of the healthy ways individuals choose to cope with their situation, and we allow them to hold on to whatever brings them hope and peace.

  2. You are so right about pain being individual. The more we learn about pain and how it “works” the more I appreciate that. I also think it’s important to help people manage their pain and see how much they can do. As HCPs who witness much pain, it can be helpful and important to validate the effort and work that our patients exert in order to keep going in their day-to-day lives. As PTs we are in a unique position to be able to appreciate just how much work our patients do without being patronizing.

  3. I think it is important for us to acknowledge that pain can look very different across the board. We should not try to mold pain into a specific set of symptoms and behaviors. We are all different as humans, so our experience of pain is also different to a certain extent. I think we can still agree on general things about it, but it is important to keep an open mind when talking to patients about it because they know their own experiences better.

    One of the things I have observed in the clinic is that PTs sometimes tended to compare patients’ situations and symptoms. It might be helpful in some situations, but I found that it ended up mostly with describing one patient’s pain as dramatic. This has always gotten under my skin because we cannot truly judge one’s pain unless we are in their skin. Therefore, I think it is very important to keep an open mind.

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