There is a quiet revolution taking place in the realm of pain management; one that is changing lives and resulting in an incredible rate of recovery and return for those willing to pass through its sphere. One of its leaders and champions, an unassuming high school graduate, likely knows more about living with pain than the vast majority of experts in the field. She has had an alternate educational path, through the proverbial school of hard knocks, and has leveraged her advanced experiential degree into a program that is helping others cope, overcome and succeed.

Becky Curtis, founder and president of Take Courage Coaching and an injured worker with permanent chronic pain, is definitely walking the walk. And she is producing results that put our highly intellectualized opioid-slathering industry to shame.

Before I get into the details, let me throw this little factoid at you: Becky and her team of coaches and medical experts work with the worst of the worst as pain cases go. They are the “train wrecks of workers’ comp,” each suffering from persistent pain and normally out of the workforce for well over a year. Many of her clients have not worked in 4 years or more – yet 56% of those who were not working and complete her program return to the workplace.

Let me repeat that: 56% of the long term pain patients who had left the workforce and graduate her program return to a functional, contributing role in society. Considering statistics show that those off work a year normally have less than a 2% chance of a successful return, her results are nothing short of remarkable.

Becky survived a near fatal car accident while on the job in 2005. In her own words:

“A C-4 spinal cord injury almost took my life – twice. First, I faced a fight to stay alive.  After recovering from my physical injuries, I faced a second battle: excruciating, unbearable burning, aching nerve pain. A syrinx (cyst caused by the trauma) in the center of my spinal cord was inoperable.  I faced a life of never-ending pain.  The only option was pain medications.”

With permanent damage to her spine, she was left suffering extreme and debilitating pain. Not satisfied with either the effectiveness or effects of traditional pain medication regimens, she pursued alternative methods to manage her pain. To make a long story very short, she developed a path of pain management that helped her cope with the pain, instead of trying to continually mask it.

Her research, personal results, and training as a professional certified coach have morphed into a company and mission called Take Courage Coaching™. She employs a team of highly skilled professionals, including a psychologist and other medical and counseling professionals. She has trained coaches around the nation to teach and advance these pain-management strategies. Acknowledging that while pain is a function of the mind, yet very, very real for those who suffer from it, Becky believes that no one in such a condition should travel that path alone. She believes they need a coach; someone who can help the patient cope with and reduce their pain, making it something that does not continually control their lives. Take Courage Coaching is not just about managing pain; it is about pain not managing the person who suffers it.

Of course, as important as Return to Work is for our industry, Ms. Curtis is generating positive outcomes in other areas as well. Her mission is restoring function through effective pain minimization efforts. Studies seem to bear this philosophy out; a Pain Outcomes Questionnaire Analysis conducted by researcher Lisa Samuel, Ph.D. for Take Courage Coaching found that:

“After 6 months of coaching, the total scores on the POQ dropped from the 50 -74% range of pain to 10 – 24% range. And even for those who cannot or do not return to work, improved function equals an improvement in life quality. Diminishing dependency on drugs is an additional benefit from coaching, even though it is not a focus of the program. The overall pain was reduced on a POQ scale by 31%.”

Additionally, Becky was able to relate individual examples of dramatic reductions in opioid and other medication use from some of her clients. One man had medical costs, including medication, of over $200,000 the year prior to entering her program. Total medical costs dropped to $29,000 the year he was in it.

And it was $0 the year after graduation. Sounds like a damn good investment to me.

This amply demonstrates the power of coaching in this environment. The entire goal of Take Courage Coaching is to build trust with the patient and equip them to set and accomplish their goals. Due to their struggles, these people rarely realize their individual strengths on their own. It often takes a coach to help them recognize their strength and ability.

To be honest, her telephonic coaching program is probably not for everyone. It requires commitment and buy-in from the injured worker. They have to both accept their pain if it is permanent, and understand that learning to manage it will take time and effort. They also must realize that pain management by pill popping is not a method for long term happiness or success. To recognize the benefits of the program, they eventually must discover that the answer to their pain lies within the same mind that transmits it relentlessly. Not everyone has the ability to face that reality.

Indeed, the dropout rate of such a program is higher than anyone would prefer to see. Of the people who are referred to and enroll in her coaching program, 33% are either “Non-Starters” or drop out of the program. The results, however, for those who have the tenacity and drive to succeed, are well worth the effort.

It is a brilliant concept when you think about it. We employ coaches of all stripes in society today. There are Corporate and Executive Coaches, Life Coaches, and Workplace Transitional Advisors. There are tutors and specialists of every kind. Even leading addiction programs, while not employing the term “coach,” rely heavily on the buddy system to provide support of those in need. Yet within workers’ comp, the people dealing with one of the most vile and debilitating conditions we see – chronic pain – are often given a heaping helping of hallucinogenics and then largely left to their own devices.

Why on earth would we not recognize the value of coaching for conditions like that? Especially when the results by comparison are so astounding?

Becky Curtis walks the walk every day, and she does so with an authenticity few of us can match. Experience was her classroom, and her wisdom is borne of her experience. We should be paying attention to the people at Take Courage Coaching. There is a lesson for the industry waiting for us there. For people willing to take the leap, there is a better answer for dealing with pain. It takes faith. It takes courage. And it also takes a coach.


Editors Note: This is the second in a series of articles by Bob called “Walking the Walk”, designed to highlight people and companies in the workers’ compensation sector that offer and follow innovative methods for improving outcomes in comp. You may access other “Walking the Walk” articles here.

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