February 12, 2015

The Compassionate Approach: Helping Patients to Heal

The Compassionate Approach: Helping Patients to Heal
By Laura Mavers (Invited Author)


From the moment we decide we want to become a doctor (formally finalised when we take the Hippocratic Oath) we pledge to dedicate our lives to helping others, whether it is ensuring their wellbeing or saving their lives. As doctors, we take on two roles – one is the technical, medical aspect of our profession where we must apply our ever-evolving knowledge and use it with intuition to correctly diagnose a physical problem, and the other is to become mentor to offer guidance and emotional support for our patients.

Mental and Emotional Healing

Keeping an open mind and practicing compassion is relevant to all aspects of our journey as professional medical practitioners. But it especially applies to those whose mental and emotional condition is deeply interwoven with their physical condition. This could apply to a whole range of scenarios, but it is particularly valid in the case of people who are suffering from substance abuse such as drug addiction and alcoholism. These are complex illnesses, involving chemical, biological and physical components as well as emotional ones; there is always more to a case than meets the eye.
In these cases, practicing compassion is more important than ever. We must take an objective and unbiased view of the situation also. An individual may have come from a background where drug and/or alcohol use is common, establishing it as a “normal” habit. They could be suffering from extremely difficult circumstances and have seen drugs or alcohol as the only escape. Or they simply could have strayed down the wrong path, and where many people are able to get back on track, they have been hooked since their first experience. While we can draw specific correlations to different habits based on different communities (like impoverished, vulnerable ones for instance) a person does not need to “fit” into any label to become susceptible to substance abuse. And therefore, while we can trace patterns and demographics which help us to address the larger social problems of substance abuse, we still must treat each case without discrimination or judgment. 

Open Arms, Open Hearts, and Open Minds

It is important to remember that for many abusers of drugs and alcohol, their perception may place these substances in the role of “healer” or at least a kind of escape. In this case, it is difficult to “replace” that healer and convince someone that their substance addiction is something that is negative which they must be taken away from. Some people do not even acknowledge that they have a problem. Some are more self-aware, and want help, but no longer have the confidence to believe they can break free. In all of these cases, we must be compassionate. When we judge, we incite feelings of shame and guilt which are already experienced by users, ironically driving them back towards the very same behaviours which they themselves disapprove of. We must instead help them to become empowered, and give them the resources they need to succeed, and this will vary on each individual case. We must treat the “individual” aspect very seriously, rather than come across as a textbook speaker. We must be there to listen, guide, to offer help if that person is involved in other circumstances – such as a domestic violence issue – and help take them away from that situation where they can more easily heal. More than anything, we must be patient. We must not treat people like goals for success – relapses are very human, and very common, and can very easily feed a defeatist attitude. When we do this, we build trust with our patient, and they are able to reveal to us the circumstances which they face and we are able to understand much more than any information medical records can give us. This operates on a larger social scale too, where marginalising and victimising people who suffer from addiction as if they have made a failed moral choice has caused more harm than good.

Most importantly, compassion forms what is so instrumental in our medical practice; we should always have love for those who need it through the presence of compassion which heals the soul as well as mind and body.

*Disclaimer
Article was written by Laura from ProTalk group.

14 comments:

  1. I really like that you stressed the importance of accepting people with these addictions with openness. Many people struggle overcoming addiction because they aren't given the support that they need. Rather than judging them harshly, we should do what we can to help people in this kind of situation. The last thing that you want to is push them away. http://www.integrative-health.us/treatment-options/outpatient-drug-rehab.html

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