My Doctor, My Student

I just had lunch with a young friend of mine who was just completing her PhD in psychology. She told me that in many schools, they are only teaching Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). I can understand some of their reasoning as there has been a good deal of research on this therapy. It employs various uses techniques that can be taught and learned. But techniques treat symptoms, and could be quite effective, they don’t treat people.

And all of the research shows that we must treat people and not symptoms. Many many years ago, I had Aaron Beck on my show. He is the father of cognitive therapy and was even considered for a Nobel prize last year. Towards the end of the interview I asked him if a loved one was out of town and needed therapy, would he look for the best cognitive therapist around. “No” he said without hesitation. “I would look for the best therapist around”. He wanted to find a therapist that treats people. And to treat people, one has to suspend all of their techniques and their narrow focus on symptoms and listen quietly to learn about the person sitting across from them. And it’s not just psychotherapists.

As a quadriplegic, my normal body temperature is around 97.2°. So when my temperature goes up to 99°, I have a fever. I’ve had many hospital experiences where they don’t react to that temperature because it’s “only 99”.  So I don’t get Tylenol nor do they look for the cause.

Similarly, my normal blood pressure can be around 90/60 so 85/55 is still normal for me. But when a doctor sees those numbers, many times they race for their prescription pads because they have been trained to treat my numbers and not me

We need doctors who treat people. We need doctors who will truly listen as we tell our story. A study about 10 years ago showed that doctors interrupt patients on the average of every 12 seconds!

In all fairness to doctors, they are rushed beyond reason and or not allocated enough time to spend with their patients. This is a major contributor to the doctor burnout we hear so much about.

Nevertheless, not hearing our story is the source of many medical errors.

I want my doctors to know that I might have anxiety or depression that affects my body. I want them to know that my illness will have an effect on my family. I want my doctors to know that I might living with a great deal of stress from anyone over a dozen causes. I want my doctors to know who they are treating.

And I also want my doctors to know that I deep respect for their great medical knowledge and experience. But I also want my doctors to have the wisdom to understand that although they know medicine, I know my body.

I want my doctors to be able to be patient teachers so that I can understand what they are thinking and why. And I want my doctors to be patient students so that I can teach them about who they are treating.

And if they do forget, feel free to suggest they remember one of these lines from the Modern Hippocratic Oath:

“I will remember that I do not treat a fever chart, a cancerous growth, but a sick human being, whose illness may affect the person’s family and economic stability. My responsibility includes these related problems, if I am to care adequately for the sick.”

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