Can you think of the most important character trait you would like in your osteopath, physio, chiropractor, whoever? Friendliness, approachability, caring nature?
The number 1 thing I would look for if I was you is honesty. But is honesty always a good thing?
Honesty and integrity are two things that I pride myself on. They come naturally, they just feel right. You would think that these character ‘traits’ make me perfectly suited to my role in health care as an osteopath and I would be inclined to agree with you in lot’s of scenarios. But what about when my honest professional opinion may not quite be what you as the patient wants to hear?
What if my honesty offends you?
What if my honest opinion calls you out on your life style, your habits, your practices, your weakness? What if my opinion means you are going to have to make some changes, do a little work?
Recently I have noticed a trend… A trend which worries me, a trend that has caused me to have some personal conflict with myself, a trend that I feel that I have to address.
Before I go on I have one disclaimer…….I do really love my job as an osteopath. It is one of the most rewarding professions. I get to spend my days working with interesting, real people, helping them to get back to a pain free life. There is no greater feeling than seeing patients who have responded really well to your management, listened to your advice and made the changes in their lives enabling them to live pain free again. There is another side to the profession however and that side is frustration.
My reason for this frustration is simple. I as the osteopath care more about YOUR health than YOU do. I am frustrated that you are not taking any action to help yourself, frustrated that you do not realise that YOUR HEALTH is YOUR RESPONSIBILITY, frustrated at the finger pointing, frustrated at the lack of common sense.
Now the finger pointing is not at me (thankfully) but at other health care practitioners…….
It is common for patients to come into clinic with a long history of pain, you may too, have a long history of pain. Some of you have done little about your pain in the past and some of have took some action to get it sorted. Those who have took action I will congratulate but going to see someone is not where the journey ends. It is merely the beginning.
Some of you have had success and some of you haven’t. Some of you who have been to see every man and his dog….Osteopaths, Chiropractors, Physios, GP’s, Consultants, Magicians, Tooth faries, you get the point. I worry a little about a segment of these serial therapist visitors, the segment who have had no results in the past from treatment.
“I went to see him and he was sh*t”
“I went there but it didn’t help”
“I have tried everything but nothing works”
It scares me that I hear quotes of this nature very often and can’t help but think that some of this criticism towards other health professionals may be justified at times.
Most of the time however, it is not.
There are, of course, good practitioners and bad practitioners. We are humans, some people are good at their job, go the extra mile, live and breathe their work. Others just turn up and go through the motions. That my friends is life.
If you have been unfortunate enough to work with one of these practitioners in the past then you have been unlucky, if you have worked with two you have been very unlucky and any more than that, well, let’s just say luck hasn’t been on your side. I refuse to believe, however, that all 10 of your previous practitioners have been incompetent.
So what is really going on here? Surely if the practitioners were competent then you as the patient would have got better right? You would be pain free. You remember the expression it takes two to tango? Well there is another person involved in getting you back to health besides your therapist. This person has been to every consultation, visited numerous clinics and is a lot closer to home then you would ever believe.
This person is YOU.
I remember my reaction when a patient first told me that his previous practitioner was “sh*t”. I was kind of nervous, I didn’t really know what to say so I moved the conversation onto something more productive and it was forgotten about.
Then it happened again…..
Now this is a really small subgroup on patients but this problem is not exactly flying under my radar I eventually started to ask more about why? What happened with these therapists? Why were they bad at their job? A pattern has emerged with 3 key themes;
- They gave me exercises which didn’t help but made things worse.
- The treatment didn’t do anything.
- They were ripping me off and just wanted me to keep coming back.
I can sympathise with all 3 of these scenarios, after all why would you pay money for treatment that was not helping but actually making you worse. Maybe all these other practitioners really were bad at their jobs after all………
But then I dove deeper.
“He wanted me to do 3 exercises, twice a day. I don’t have 30 minutes to spare“
“She suggested going to the gym to get stronger. I was paying her to get me better“
“I didn’t feel any better after the first visit so I didn’t go back“
“He said to do the exercises morning and night. I like my sleep too much to get up and do them”
The more I asked questions, the clearer it became. There may well be some poor practitioners out there but that didn’t seem to be the actual problem. The problem lied in two main areas. I have added a third (supplementary) area of importance for overall context.
1)Communication – Lack of between patient and practitioner, practitioner and patient (How long it would take, what was the desired outcome, explanation of treatment approaches, how much work the patient would have to put it, being honest and upfront with patients about their recovery etc).
2)Patient Responsibility – Lack of willingness to change or alter life in order to facilitate a PROGRESSIVE recovery (not adhering to exercise programs, lifestyle advice, mindset problems etc)
I highlighted and capitalised the word PROGRESSIVE for a reason. Getting yourself healthy after years of abuse is not easy and certainly does not happen over night. If you have been in pain for 20+ years you are not going to miraculously become pain free overnight. It requires willingness to work at it and make some changes. These changes take time, patience and commitment.
3)High levels of patient complexity – You as the patient are a real person. You are complex and have lots of things going on in your life which can contribute to your pain (fear, anxiety, sleep issues, depression, stress, ill health, past injuries, poor lifestyle, high alcohol intake, poor diet). Some of these things (in bold) which may be contributing to your pain are not neccesarily under your direct control. Many of them, however are. Trial and error may be required here so stay patient with your therapist. Rule of thumb, if you are really serious about your recovery and nothing has worked in the past, then you need to get these lifestyle peices in check. They may just hold the key to your pain free life.
DEFINING THE ROLE OF THE THERAPIST
There seems be a disconnect in what a therapist is supposed to do for you as a patient. The therapist is not a healer, not a fixer, not a miracle worker. I am not a miracle worker. I call BS on anyone who says they are. If you have an acute flare up of pain then you are going to recovery very quickly with my treatment. If you are a long term pain sufferer you can not expect to be magically pain free over night.
Now I am not saying that this doesn’t happen because it does. Lots of patients see marked improvements after just one treatment but if I had a formula which healed a life time of pain in one session I would have been given the nobel prize by now. The therapist has many roles, none more important than the role of educating you as the patient. Explaining to you why you are in pain, what structures are involved, what we can do to help you and what YOU are going to have to do for yourself to help with your pain.
Yes you might actually have to do some of the work yourself.
You might be asked to change your desk set up, do some prescribed exercises, cut back on certain foods for a while. We as therapists ask you to do these things because they will help. Help you get better faster, help you be in less pain, help you get back to doing things you love. That means you are going to have to be willing to do some work for yourself. You are ultimately the one who is responsible for your health.
Remember that time the GP told you that it would be a good idea to cut down on the carb intake because your blood sugar was a little high. Well he was right, he wasn’t saying it for the sake of it. He was giving you a chance to change around your life. To stop a horrible disease process from happenening before things got out of hand.
Well today I am going to tell you this. There is NO medical professional out there that can help YOU if YOU are not willing to help yourself. Your health is not somebody elses responsibility. Your pain is not your therapists problem. It is YOURS. If you want to get better then I can help but only if you are on board and truly committed to giving things a shot.
TAKE SOME RESPONSIBILITY
Remember earlier I said that honesty was my best trait. Well at times in the past it has been difficult to be completely honest with you. I didn’t want to annoy you, make you upset or angry. I didn’t feel I was able to tell you the hard truth but I realised I was doing you a disservice. You deserve my complete honesty.
With honesty comes incite, with incite comes action and with action comes results. Real good results. Life changing results.
I can educate, treat and support you and you will recover but ultimately it comes down to YOU. YOU are the one in pain and therefore YOU are the one who needs to take some action.
YOU YOU YOU YOU YOU YOU YOU!!!!!!
That action looks a little like this;
- Book an appointment/find a great online resource to start to educate yourself about your pain.
- Discuss your pain with your specialist and agree a treatment strategy/use the online resources to put together your own strategy.
- Commit to the treatment and other management advice given by the specialist/Commit to your plan and stick to it.
- Live happily ever after/Live happily ever after
I no longer have a problem with honesty because I know that honesty, ultimately leads to the best outcomes for you as the patient. This might mean, at times, telling you things that you really don’t want to hear. But believe me I have YOUR best interests at heart. Honesty is the best policy and this is my honest opinion…
YOU are the only one responsible for YOUR own health. Take some action to decrease your pain and stop making excuses in your head as to why you shouldn’t do a certain exercise, see someone, or have treatment. If things are truly bothering you then invest the time, money and resources into getting them sorted. You say you want to be pain free but how much do you really want it?