Dr. Frances Cole Takes Creative Approach to Living with Pain

Dr. Frances Cole is a General Practitioner working in primary care with a postgraduate in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and a member of the Royal College of General Practitioners. She is from Ripon, in North England, and will be speaking at the GAPPA UPLiFT Conference to share her story.  

Following Cognitive Behavioral Therapy training, she began focusing on chronic and persistent pain management in communities. There needed to be a close, local setting to manage pain. Dr. Cole and a multidisciplinary team of psychologists, occupational therapists, and physiotherapists set up the very first primary and community care pain rehabilitation program in North England with just £2000, an impressive feat in the health service industry.

From this point, they became a regional pain rehabilitation center. It was common for people outside of the local community to travel out for a thirty-hour, six-week program. Because of what Dr. Cole and her team had accomplished, other areas started to catch on. Now, most parts of the country are running their pain management programs in their communities.

Dr. Cole firmly believes that the solution to pain is not found exclusively in drugs.

“Opioids are making pain worse in some people; it’s almost designed to give you more pain, so you need more drugs. They have a good place in end-of-life care, but they’re very poor in chronic pain.” She attributes this to the lack of education among clinicians about pain. When a person under their care is in pain, the traditional response has been to prescribe pain killers.

“They operate in a biomedical fix; if you have an infection or an injury you give them a drug. You must be biopsychosocial. Pain reflects the brain, and the brain is struggling to process what’s going on in the body and the person’s environment.”

According to Dr. Cole, once people understand how their brain manages pain, they start to change how they manage themselves. This helps to reduce the stress, anger, and shame related to their pain. They find ways to energize themselves to move forward.

“So really, it’s a whole lifestyle switch. The stories we’ve heard — they’re stunning. They have to be because not everybody does that much to change.”

In 2020, pain services had to adjust to fit the virtual format, producing the Ten Footsteps Program at livewellwithpain.co.uk and my.livewellwithpain.co.uk (people living with pain version). Dr. Cole and a group of people from various disciplines came together to develop this 12-month digital program to provide clinicians with skills to help people under their care.

Ten Footsteps also hosts the Footsteps Festival, a non-profit event that helps those with pain who have lost access to services manage their pain better. Activities like Step into Singing, hosted by Opera North, encourages participants to pursue singing as a hobby. Easeful Movement demonstrates ways to move painful bodies in an enjoyable way. These programs are developed to change the way people think about and manage their pain. Switching a person’s mindset from ‘I can’t do this’ to ‘how can I do this’ makes all the difference, and Dr. Cole is driven to help change the mindset of those living with pain.

To learn more about the Footsteps Festival, register for the UPLiFT conference and attend the 2 November session!