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Should Doctors Treat A Patient’s Soul & Mind?

Should Doctors Treat A Patient’s Soul & Mind?

Recently, I led a teleclass with Dr. Bruce Lipton, author of The Biology Of Belief and The Honeymoon Effect, as part of my Whole Health Medicine Institute MD training. During the class, we talked about the role of the doctor, and Bruce told the Whole Health Medicine Institute doctors a story about a physician who claimed that his job was to help his patients maintain the status quo in their lifestyles- even if that lifestyle was, for the most part, unhealthy. In other words, he was willing to address diet and exercise lifestyle issues if he felt it would benefit the patient, but he believed it wasn’t the physician’s job to get involved in whether a toxic relationship might be making the patient sick, whether a soul-sucking job might be causing symptoms in the body or whether an illness might be the result of a thwarted dream or a financial worry.

The doctor believed this his job was to medicate the symptoms so the patient could stay in the bad marriage or the unhappy job, so they could keep thwarting dreams and worrying about their finances- symptom-free. He believed his role was more that of pharmacist than therapist, and that the role of intruding into the personal life of the patient belonged more to the therapist than to the physician.

The Doctor As Mirror

Bruce and I both blatantly disagree. In fact, the nature of the doctor-patient relationship is at the core of what I’m teaching to both patients and health care providers in Mind Over Medicine. I believe it is ESSENTIAL that the health care provider hold up a loving mirror to help the patient address lifestyle issues that may be causing or exacerbating physical symptoms. To view the body as solely a biochemical organism, separate from its environment and the factors that threaten its homeostasis is careless and ultimately ineffective. The body’s biochemistry may be important to address, but the mind and the soul and the context of how they interact with the world are just as important.

The Body Is Equipped To Heal Itself

Medical literature is full of scientific evidence that the body is equipped with natural self-repair mechanisms that can be flipped on or off with the power of our thoughts, feelings, and beliefs. As doctors, I believe it is our responsibility to dig into the lives of our patients so we can help them figure out what might be activating disease-causing stress responses in the body and what they might do to facilitate healing relaxation responses in the body.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t use pharmaceuticals or surgical interventions when appropriate. But it does mean that medicating a symptom so the patient can maintain the status quo of an unhealthy lifestyle is not the solution. Consider the patient who gets severe migraines every time her boss yells at her- which is every day. Is she better off getting Imitrex? Or should she either set boundaries with her boss or find a new job?

Should the patient who is shouldering the responsibility of caring for her abusive, aging mother take Percocet for the disabling back pain she started experiencing right after her mother moved into her house? Or should she put her mother in a nursing home?

I’m not suggesting that Imitrex and Percocet won’t help the patient in the interim, as they muster up the moxy to make lifestyle modifications that will support better health.  But I am saying that treating the symptom with drugs and surgeries without examining what stressor might underlie the symptom is simply practicing bad medicine.

Symptom Relief Vs. Symptom Prevention

As Dr. Andrew Weil says in the documentary Escape Fire, “We have a disease management system, not a health care system.” Our health care system is badly broken because we are in the business of symptom relief, not symptom prevention.

The way our system is set up, most doctors are treating patients the way doctors treat injured football players — do whatever you can to set that bone, wrap that ankle, inject that joint and get the star player back in the game. Nobody’s really thinking about the fact that the best way to help the injured football player is to get him out of the game — for good. And look what happens to pro football players down the road. Their bodies are wrecked. Most of them are getting knee replacements by the time they’re in their fifties.

We do the same thing to patients. We medicate them so they can get back into the game of an unhealthy life that is out of alignment with their Inner Pilot Light. And the consequences of such behavior are dire. As doctors, we promise to first, do no harm. But by slapping band-aids on symptoms rather than helping patients get at the root of why the symptoms are there in the first place, we put our patients at risk of more disease and even premature death.

In order to live optimally healthy, happy lives, patients need more than just a pill to mask a life this is out of alignment with their truth. As I teach in Mind Over Medicine, they need to write The Prescription for themselves.

So what is the doctor’s job? Perhaps the most important role a doctor can play is not just to offer the band-aid of symptom relief, but to offer love, support, positive belief and nurturing care so the patient can muster up the courage to change any lifestyle issues that may be predisposing the body to illness.

What Do YOU Think?

Related
Is Your Doctor Lying to You?
5 Things Your Doctor Wishes You Wouldn’t Do
Do You Need Medicine or a Life Change?

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Lissa Rankin

Lissa Rankin, MD is a mind-body medicine physician, founder of the Whole Health Medicine Institute training program for physicians and other health care providers, and the New York Times bestselling author of Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself.  She is on a grassroots mission to heal health care, while empowering you to heal yourself.  Lissa blogs at LissaRankin.com and also created two online communities - HealHealthCareNow.com and OwningPink.com. She is also the author of two other books, a professional artist, an amateur ski bum, and an avid hiker. Lissa lives in the San Francisco Bay area with her husband and daughter.

74 comments

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6:55AM PDT on Jul 30, 2014

I retired as a MD at 62 bexause the patients I cared for were sevrerly disabled and for most I had to pay $10 to see them and was loosing money, whereas those doin fluff care,botox, were making a fortune. It,s insane.

6:03PM PDT on Aug 15, 2013

I believe in the mind/body connection so, for me, it makes perfect sense to consider and treat both. I also believe that the treatment would be much more effective.

5:14PM PDT on Aug 11, 2013

Thanks.

10:01PM PDT on Aug 10, 2013

Dr. Weil is so right. Our medical schools seem to be working for the pharmaceutical companies and not for the people. Same with insurance companies. They want nothing to do with curing the body. That might put them out of business.

10:53AM PDT on Aug 10, 2013

Thanks

10:49PM PDT on Aug 6, 2013

ty

10:20AM PDT on Aug 4, 2013

Heather, the reason doctors only have a limited amount of time to see patients is because their panels are so full, that according to statistics, each doctor is at about 176% to 220% patient overload. There's not enough staff who are contracted with certain insurance providers to meet the needs of public health. None the less, the demand is so plentiful in all areas (well, at least 98%) that doctors schedules are being jammed packed, so they are able to allow for quality time. The process has become Waaay to impersonal, so I think a good portion of the time, immediate rational mind is not demonstrated by doctors. They think off the top of their heads academically, and not with their hearts in realizing what patients are FEELING both physically and mentally. They do the "Let's try this first,.. and then let's go from there." They do the "Random Act" instead of realising what's really going on and following through with needs to be done for the patient.

5:02AM PDT on Aug 4, 2013

The best thing I have done so far for my life is quit my so-called "doctor" who messed it all up with prescription after prescription. I was getting beat up on a regular basis by my then partner but other than prescribing pain pills he said nothing and reported nothing. He did however give me prescriptions for antidepressants as if a pill could somehow make getting the sh** beat out of me (and other abuses) somehow all okay...

Was it his job to intervene? Actually yes. Just as with children being abused it is the law to report it at least. It would have at least put me in touch with services and a possible way out.

That said, pain pills were helpful to getting back on my feet, but once I was out, even though he prescribed them freely before, then he started getting stingy essentially accusing me of being an addict so that I could only have one per day (lasting 4 to 6 hours) and could not get a refill until at least 30 days had past. This for several broken bones and numerous other injuries. I could not sleep, I could not think, I could barely move the pain was so overwhelming.

But that is hardly the end of the story with that doctor. He actually passed on MRSA to the ex. A little karma? Maybe but still atrocious.

1:30AM PDT on Aug 4, 2013

I've had some fairly shocking experiences with what doctors have said and how they have said it since coming to Canada.
I'm happy with my present doctor. They simply don't have time in our fast-paced world - each patient is allocated only a few minutes...

11:41PM PDT on Aug 2, 2013

To Patricia R.,.. Thank you for your kind words and consideration to reflect upon my experiences and insights. It has come with many years of experience both working in many hospitals, two being world reknown, as well as one being Military. Although this might make some squeemish, I was a participant in the demonstration project that was implemented to Tri-Star when Hiliary Clinton was in her first stages of creating the HMO program. My first tour of duty was in inpatinet psychiatry during Desert Storm. My experience was unforgettable and invaluable to me!
As I mentioned, I now participate in a teaching assisting program with the university medical school med students where I am given the opportunity to share with them and help them develop their interpersonal skills in a way that is being deviated by most doctors.
I highly recommmend anyone who has a medical school close by, to see if they have a "Standardized Patient Program" where you can play an integral part in a new medical students life. In sharing your experiences with them, it is the intention to give these new students a better understanding of how patients want to be heard and treated as a human being no matter what their medical condition is.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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