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P89 Fuse award winning unmasking pain project: Insights from people with pain, artists, and pain specialists
  1. Mark Johnson1,
  2. Kate Thompson1,
  3. Ghazala Tabasam1,
  4. Balbir Singh2,
  5. Paul Chazot3
  1. 1Centre for Pain Research, Leeds Beckett University, Leeds, UK
  2. 2Balbir Singh Dance Company, Leeds, UK
  3. 3Pain Challenge Academy, Wolfson Research Institute for Health and Wellbeing, Durham University, Durham, UK
  4. 4The Unmasking Pain Team, Various


Background Unmasking Pain explores creative approaches for telling stories of life with persistent pain using a co-creative framework between artists and people living with pain. People with pain attended workshops facilitated by artists that included drawing, clay making, music, games, taking your shoes for a walk, and conversing with your puppet. Here we report insights from the Unmasking Pain project and how this may offer a fuller understanding of pain and its management.

Methods The project was evaluated using mixed methods. Additionally, two research studies were embedded in the project, (i) a scientific study to evaluate pain and related behaviour (see Chazot et al. this meeting) and (ii) a phenomenological study to gain description about taking part in Unmasking Pain through one-to-one interviews. Insights and emerging themes are summarised below.

Results People with pain reported being empowered to creatively explore themselves. They reported improvements in their emotions, sense of self, sense-making, and ability and confidence to communicate and engage in new relationships. Unmasking Pain moved people living with pain from ‘I can’t do, I am not willing to do it’ to ‘Perhaps I can, I’ll give it a go, I enjoyed it … I am not alone’. Artists described ‘circling around pain’, often not mentioning pain unless people wished to do so themselves. Artists were mindful of being compassionate in their approach ‘You don’t have to do anything if you don’t want to. Just watch’.

Discussion From the outset people with pain reported ‘Don’t see me for my condition. See me for me’. They described their encounter with Unmasking Pain as ‘a new set of rules’ that contrasted with clinical contexts. Artists reported engaging with people as people, rather than ‘chronic pain sufferers’, something clinicians may find difficult to do. Through this process artists were not seen as intrusive or threatening and people with pain quickly gained a sense of trust and confidence to engage in collaborative creative conversations. Involvement in Unmasking Pain highlighted the power of art to make-sense of oneself with or without pain and to communicate bodily experience and personal stories in clinical encounters. Debates included whether Unmasking Pain should be considered an ‘intervention’, ‘therapy’, or something else, and how Unmasking Pain could be used to reconceptualise pain from neuro-mechanistic models towards an ‘ecology of wholeness’. In conclusion, Unmasking Pain is a multi-disciplinary project that has potential to improve population health research by making the familiar strange and strange familiar.

  • Pain
  • Art
  • Creativity

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