Publish date: 14 April 2021

UCLH consultant oral physician and facial pain specialist, Professor Joanna Zakrzewska, has edited a book with visual artist Deborah Padfield called Encountering Pain: Hearing, Seeing, Speaking. It is being launched at 6pm on Thursday 15 April via a free webinar. Deborah is senior lecturer in arts & health humanities at St George's, University of London, and lecturer at the Slade School of Fine Art, UCL.

The book explores how we communicate pain, not only in words but in visual images and gesture, how we respond to the pain of others, and whether explaining how pain works help us handle it.

Defined as having lasted over three months, persistent pain changes the brain and nervous system so pain no longer warns of danger: it seems to be a fault in the system. Language struggles to bridge the gap, and it raises ethical challenges in its management unlike those of other common conditions.

Encountering Pain shares leading research into the potential value of visual images and non-verbal forms of communication as means of improving clinician–patient interaction. It is divided into four sections: hearing, seeing, speaking, and a final series of contributions on the future for persistent pain. The chapters are accompanied by vivid photographs co-created with those who live with pain.

The volume integrates the voices of leading scientists, academics and contemporary artists with poetry and poignant personal testimonies to provide a manual for understanding the meanings of pain, for healthcare professionals, pain patients, students, academics and artists. The voices and experiences of those living with pain are central, providing tools for discussion and future research, shifting register between creative, academic and personal contributions from diverse cultures and weaving them together to offer new understanding, knowledge and hope.

Professor Joanna Zakrzewska, who developed the facial pain clinic at Royal National ENT and Eastman Dental Hospitals, said: “After years of work it is very gratifying to see the launch of our book Encountering Pain: Hearing, Seeing, Speaking. Pain is a major cause of disability globally, but it remains difficult to communicate, a problem both to those with pain and those who try to help. We have taken a truly interdisciplinary approach, involving scientists, academics and artists. As far as we are aware it is the first book of its kind.”