Comfort Ability Program Teaches Children How to Manage Pain, Changes Lives
Patients with chronic pain and their parents learn how to manage pain in the CBT-based program.
For 16-year-old Mila Hunter, the Comfort Ability Program was a life-changing experience. It was the first time she had met other girls who truly understood her journey with intense pain episodes.
Answers to Mila’s Pain
In January 2023, Mila was diagnosed with central sensitization syndrome, slipped rib syndrome and hypermobility syndrome. For four years, Mila’s mom, Shelley Hunter, had taken her daughter to countless doctor visits to find answers to why she limped when walking and the extreme pain all over her body. When Cook Children's Pain Management was recommended to her, Shelley was hesitant. She didn’t want Mila to just be given strong pain medications. She quickly realized this was not the approach at all.
At Cook Children's Pain Management, the doctor knew exactly what Mila was dealing with right away.
“She answered all the questions we had for years,” Shelley said. “Instead of dismissing our concerns, she listened and helped us understand Mila’s conditions.”
Mila was referred to the Comfort Ability Program which she attended in March. The relief Mila felt when meeting others just like her was indescribable.
“For so long I felt alone because I was sick in a way that no one else was,” Mila said. “At the workshop, I learned a lot, but the most important thing was knowing there were other people just like me. I finally felt like I belonged.”
Life-changing Workshops Engage Children and Parents
The Comfort Ability Program at Cook Children’s is one of a few of its kind in Texas. Boston Children’s Hospital is partnering with children’s hospitals throughout the world to give parents and kids the opportunity to engage in workshops that focus on proven coping skills using cognitive behavioral therapy.
Artee Gandhi, M.D., medical director of pain management, said the six-hour workshops – one for children and one for parents – help children reduce their pain in non-medical ways. Clinical therapists and pain psychologists explain the science behind the pain and how they can best support their children. Through group therapy, children learn strategies to manage their pain and are taught more about their conditions so they can educate their friends, teachers and others. The program is meant to be one piece of a patient’s treatment plan and complement the entire host of options provided at Cook Children’s.
“Others may not see it on the outside, but these children are struggling on the inside, so we give them tools and strategies to employ anywhere and throughout life,” Dr. Gandhi said. “The brain is a powerful tool, and we help them use it.”
The program teaches both children and parents how the nervous system works in the body and why skills rooted in psychology can help. During the workshop, patients learn how to calm down their nervous system through belly breathing, guided imagery, art therapy, aroma therapy, mindfulness and biofeedback therapy.
Patients from 10 to 17 years old with any condition that causes chronic pain for more than three months can participate. Some of the conditions include central sensitization syndrome, chronic headaches, IBS, fibromyalgia and chronic back pain.
A Program Filled with Hope
Matthew Reed, pain management clinical therapist and site director of the Comfort Ability Program, has been at Cook Children’s for 10 years and treats children with chronic pain on an individual basis. He says the goal is always to reduce the attention on pain and get kids back to living.
“We see a lot of patients who think the pain will last forever and believe there isn’t a path out of it,” Reed said. “There is a lot of hope built into this program, and one of the greatest benefits is the kids connecting with others.”
Patients who attend the workshops also have access to an online platform where they can engage with others around the world with the same condition. The first couple of workshops have been very successful and are now in high demand.
“It has been very rewarding to see patients realize there is a path out of their pain,” Reed said.
‘I feel like myself again’
Shelley said even Mila’s teachers noticed that in a matter of a few months, Mila is now a totally different person. She credits the Comfort Ability Program with Mila’s newfound confidence.
“My mental health is a lot better and so is my pain,” Mila said. “I’m starting to feel like myself again.”
Cook Children's Pain Management
Cook Children's Pain Management improves the quality of life for our pediatric patients by providing a balance between medicine and therapy.
Cook Children's is leading the way among children's hospitals by providing an innovative and comprehensive approach to managing pain in children and teens. Your child's care team includes experts in the evaluation and treatment of acute and chronic pain in infants, children and teens up to the age of 18. Our team's cooperative efforts span across many specialties as we work closely with our patients and families. This joint effort results in the best possible plan of care for your child.