All the Rage (Saved by Sarno)

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ALL THE RAGE SAVED BY SARNO, doc­u­men­tary, not rated, The Screen, 3.5 chiles

In a city like Santa Fe, the idea that chronic pain has at least some ba­sis in psy­cho­log­i­cal trauma is not par­tic­u­larly con­tro­ver­sial. If you have re­cur­ring back spasms, for in­stance, doc­tors here of­ten rec­om­mend psy­chother­apy and yoga be­fore pre­scrib­ing painkillers or send­ing you to surgery. Per­haps this is be­cause be­lief in the mind-body con­nec­tion floats on the ether in the City Dif­fer­ent — but in much of main­stream Amer­i­can medicine, this is con­sid­ered fringe quack­ery. In the out­side world, chronic pain is thought of as phys­i­cal in na­ture, full stop. Dr. John E. Sarno, a re­ha­bil­i­ta­tive spe­cial­ist at New York Univer­sity and au­thor of Mind Over Back Pain (1982) and Heal­ing Back Pain: The Mind-Body Con­nec­tion (1991), was an out­lier in his field. His ba­sic ad­vice to chronic pain suf­fer­ers was de­cep­tively sim­ple: Feel your feel­ings, get up and ex­er­cise, and be kind to your­self when you re­lapse. Sarno died in June 2017, one day be­fore his ninety-fourth birth­day and the re­lease of a doc­u­men­tary about his work, All the Rage (Saved by

Sarno), di­rected by pain pa­tient Michael Gallinsky with Suki Haw­ley and David Bellinson.

Ini­tially, their ap­proach is per­plex­ing. In­ter­view sub­jects are al­most all fi­nan­cially se­cure men who work in me­dia, in­clud­ing Howard Stern and Larry David. Prior to en­coun­ter­ing Sarno’s the­o­ries, they were so out of touch with their own minds that merely read­ing a book that gave them per­mis­sion to think about pain as emo­tional cured them. The omis­sion of women and or­di­nary work-a-day folks, or any men­tion that the mind­body con­nec­tion is com­mon knowl­edge in many world cul­tures and among holis­tic medicine prac­ti­tion­ers, is glar­ing. The film seems to be an at­tempt to li­on­ize a man who couldn’t get his own peers to take him se­ri­ously, as well as a some­times awk­wardly in­ti­mate look at Gallinsky’s own jour­ney. But when Sarno tes­ti­fies be­fore the U.S. Se­nate Com­mit­tee on Health, Ed­u­ca­tion, La­bor, and Pen­sions about the dev­as­tat­ing health im­pacts of poverty — which he says cre­ates in­ter­nal­ized anger that is man­i­fested as chronic pain — it is clear that the film­mak­ers were be­ing strate­gic. Sarno, we learn, pre­dicted the epi­demic of chronic pain that has re­sulted in the cur­rent opioid cri­sis.

Gallinsky and com­pany un­der­stand ex­actly who needs to hear Sarno’s mes­sage: the peo­ple who de­ter­mine health­care pol­icy in the United States, who are not go­ing to lis­ten to a wide-eyed yoga teacher in Santa Fe or an African-Amer­i­can psy­chother­a­pist in Man­hat­tan. But they might pay at­ten­tion to a fa­mous and wealthy cynic like Howard Stern, who in­sists that Sarno cured him. — Jen­nifer Levin

Stand­ing alone: Dr. John E. Sarno

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