Disappearing Act Disabled Embodiment and the Haunting of the Biopsychosocial Model of Chronic Pain

Anna Kunin

Presented by:
Anna Kunin

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Chronic pain, illness and disability are clinically prevalent, widespread phenomena. The biopsychosocial model of pain has been broadly adopted as the dominant paradigm for understanding chronic pain in psychological and medical fields, which has been seen as a progressive advancement beyond dualistic biomedical models. However, neoliberal capitalist forces have steered the implementation of this model in ways that reduce the complex etiology of chronic pain to individual psychological and behavioral factors. This effectively disappears the somatic experience of sick/disabled people, thereby occluding the extensive biological, psychological, social and systemic harm of ableism. The paper offers a counter-perspective on chronic pain from a disability justice lens, laying out the literal life and death stakes of accessibility (especially during the pandemic age) as mediated by interlocking systems of oppression, including white supremacy. It explores both the limitations and possibilities of somatics to resurrect the disabled/sick body within the clinical purview and to support a client’s sense of agency within their experience of chronic pain. Towards that end, interventions that draw upon interoception, exteroception and proprioception are considered. The paper is at once a memorial to all those whose bodies have been exiled out of sight to sicken and die, a call to reflection and action on the part of clinicians, and an inquiry into the liberatory potential of sick/disabled embodiment in the therapeutic container and beyond.

Anna Kunin is a performance artist, cultural organizer and future therapist currently attending the somatic psychology graduate program at the California Institute of Integral Studies. They are a white, radical, queer, sick/disabled Ashkenazi Jew from Minneapolis (Dakota and Anishinaabe land) committed to collective liberation everywhere. They have over a decade of experience living and making work at the intersections of community building, art-making and the struggle for justice. They can be found asking inconvenient questions and stirring the pot.

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