#341 – The Hidden Psychology of Pain with James Alexander,PhD


Australian psychologist, Dr. James Alexander is author of the 2012 book, The Hidden Psychology of Pain. By way of biographical statement, Dr. Alexander writes: I became a psychologist after the harrowing experience of being nearly killed in a car accident as an 18 year old, when my VW Kombi van was hit by a drunk in a head on car accident, the van collapsed in on my legs and trapped me in a badly injured state for the next 2 1/2 hours before being freed. In addition to being very physically damaged, I was emotionally traumatized by the experience.

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When I began to physically recover, I found a collection of pop-psychology self help books in my fathers book shelf, and my psychological recovery began. Within the year, I decided I wanted to become a psychologist so as to help other people that had been similarly traumatized. This was 30 years ago, and for the last 25 years, I have been providing psychological services to a broad range of people in hospital settings, pain management clinics, rehabilitation services, and for the last 10 years, in private practice in NSW, Australia. I have a PhD in clinical health psychology, and because of my interest in mind/body health issues from this, as well as resulting from the chronic pain which I experienced for 18 years following my accident, I have chosen to specialize in the psychological treatment of chronic pain and psychological trauma. Whilst open to a range of approaches, I am these days primarily an EMDR practitioner. Ironically, this approach has opened me up to depth-psychology approaches as well. I am a founding Fellow and current Board member of the Australian Association of Psychologists.�

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A psychology podcast by David Van Nuys, Ph.D.

copyright 2013: David Van Nuys, Ph.D.



  1. Christy Roach
    Posted March 11, 2013 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    Dr. Dave,
    Wonderful interview! My hope is that you (and others) find some relief for your own ailments ~ Mr. Sarno’s (audio) books have done this for me. Dr. Alexander’s book is on my “must read” list to expand my knowledge of mindbody health.
    I am happy to testify that after at least 6 years of back, neck, and shoulder pain, I am over one year pain free. After listening and sometimes re-listening to Dr. Sarno’s works, I found myself thinking of potential areas of my life, both past and present, that might cause me to be angry ~ whether the anger was righteous or not. I was also able to be more compassionate with myself for these feelings. Slowly, maybe over a course of a couple months, the pain diminished.
    For about a year I would still have an occasional ache but it would be remedied by just thinking of some potential causes of feelings that I could be unconsciously avoiding.
    At first, I was hesitant to go “down this road” and bring up memories or feelings that I knew I did not want to face. It sounds counter-intuitive that you could feel better physically by thinking of unpleasant memories or thoughts; however, when done with self-compassion and compassion for those I perceived possibly contributing to my feelings, it brought me peace and acceptance.
    I truly look forward to reading Dr. Alexander’s book, and I hope it has the same effect on those plagued with pain that Dr. Sarno’s books had for me.

  2. Posted March 13, 2013 at 2:41 am | Permalink

    Hi Dave- I remember in the interview you commenting that you hadn’t thought of EMDR as being a depth-psychology approach, and i dont think i arrived at a comment on the issue. So, as a follow-up, yes, i know that Shapiro was really coming from a behavioural stance when she came across the importance of bi-lateral stimulation. However, as i stated in my book, i think she managed to create an amalgam of the best elements of all the other types of psychology, including depth-psychology. An EMDR session often sounds very much like the free-association of psychoanalysis. There is usually no interpretation, judgement or discussion- but each new item to enter a person’s field of awareness is followed by a set of eye movements. In addition, the material which invariably comes up during an EMDR session is from the person’s unconscious. The process itself seems to facilitate access to unconscious material very easily and quickly. This then becomes the stuff of the session. As such, even though there are certainly cognitive and behavioural aspects to EMDR, i would argue that it is essentially a depth-psychology simply due to the material which it brings up. I do think it is therefore an example of the confluence occurring in psychology which you have referred to on various occasions. Best wishes, James

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