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Mike Stewart: How To Become A Part of the Solution

1. Tell us about you, your practice and/or your organization. 

My name is Mike Stewart. I am a Physiotherapist who works as a clinician, teacher and researcher. After more than 20 years of meeting patients I am still fascinated by people’s stories and developing ways to help people make sense of and overcome pain. My Masters degree in education helped me develop an understanding of the complexity of teaching. This understanding led to me developing Know Pain courses for a wide range of healthcare professionals. My MSc helped me recognize the gap that exists between us trying our best to guide patients through the challenges of pain education, and the lack of understanding regarding teaching skills. By bridging this gap and developing our teaching toolkit, Know Pain courses aim to optimize patient education and empowerment. My research interests include an exploration of communication and education skills in clinical practice. I am proud to have taught Know Pain courses for over 600 healthcare professionals in 16 countries. I continue to learn so much throughout these experiences and it gives me great pleasure to hear that clinicians feel better equipped to help people in pain. Know Pain courses are suitable for all healthcare professionals at all experience levels. 


2. What's the best continuing education course/conference you've ever taken (this can be clinical, business, webinar, online, in person)?

I had my first visit to the San Diego Pain Summit earlier this year and I was hugely impressed by the focus on listening to people in pain. I think that healthcare professionals often fall into the trap of exploring our own aims and interests, so it was refreshing to watch and listen to people in pain tell their own stories about what helped and what didn’t. The answers to people’s problems often lie in their words and thoughts, not ours.


3. What's your favourite book?

From a professional perspective, I would highly recommend reading David Biro’s The Language of Pain. Biro is a Doctor who writes wonderfully about his own personal experiences of living with pain and considers how others have attempted to express their experiences throughout history. I consider it to be essential reading for anyone who works with people in pain.

On a personal level, I am a keen traveller so I urge anyone that I meet to read Jules Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth. I first read this whilst travelling on the Trans-Siberian train across Russia and I’ve lost count of how many times that I’ve read it since!


4. What's your favourite blog, podcast or online resource?

I always recommend colleagues and patients to take a look at Pain-edPain Toolkit  and Noijam.


5. Why did you decide to host your online continuing education courses on Embodia?

I first met Maggie at the San Diego Pain Summit and was struck by her enthusiasm and drive. Embodia’s ethos matched mine in that they aim to develop clinical knowledge and skills by guiding people through the maze of clinical evidence in order to develop meaningful, practical skills to use with patients.


6. What advice would you give to your 25-year-old self?

Trust your instincts. When I was a 25 year old Physio I was encouraged to use what I had learnt throughout my training. However, my training did not equip me to know what to do during the many challenging and delicate clinical situations that I encountered. Rather than acknowledging these challenges and equipping myself with the necessary skills, I continued to focus my treatments on “fixing” peoples pain. This led to a huge amount of self-doubt as the more I continued to try and fix, treat and solve people’s problems, the more I began to realize that I was only helping them to feel better for a few days. The more I did things to them, the more they wanted me to do it again. E.M Forster once said that, “Spoon feeding only teaches people the shape of the spoon in the long-term.” I think this is so true.

To develop my practice I had to gain the courage to move beyond everything that I had learnt during my training, and to refocus on why I became a Physio – to become part of people’s solution, and not part of their problem.


7. What's something you've recently learned that you're really excited to implement?

I taught a Know Pain course in Spain where a Doctor who came to the course taught me how he uses magic tricks to help his patients understand the complex, idiosyncratic nature of perception. Very cool! Now all I have to do is develop my magic skills.


8. What is one aha moment that you’ve had that changed you forever? What did you learn from this?

I’ll never forget the moment a lady in one of our pain education groups stood up and walked over to a window to express how making sense of her pain had helped her. She stood staring out of the window and told us all how, before she understood her back pain, she used to feel like she was constantly focusing on the weather outside the window. Now, since making sense of it, she felt free to step away from the window and get back to living the life that she wanted to enjoy.

This metaphor for shifting your focus away from pain and towards the good things in life is so important. In a very simple and profound way, this lady had expressed the importance of acceptance (accepting that the weather outside was still going to continue), and commitment to live the life that she wanted, despite her pain. It was an inspirational moment for everyone in the room.


9. What is one thing that has led to your success?

Curiosity and creativity. I believe that we need bucket loads of each if we are to get the most out of life.


10. If you could have dinner with anyone, alive or dead, who would it be?

This is a tough one but I’d have to go with Stephen Fry. I could listen to his witty anecdotes all day!


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About The Instructor

Mike Stewart, MCSP SRP MSc PG Cert (Clin Ed)

Mike Stewart is a physiotherapist and visiting university lecturer with twenty years of experience managing complex, persistent pain conditions. In addition, he is a dedicated practice-based educator committed to providing evidence-based education to a wide variety of health professionals. His Know Pain workshops have provided clinicians around the world with practical pain education skills.

He has an MSc in Physiotherapy and Practice-based Education from the University of Brighton, and is planning a PhD focusing on pain and communication. His published work has received international praise from the leading names in neuroscience.


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