During a recent one-hour consultation the chiropractor asserted, "I'm really good at my job." He continued extolling his savant-like ability to ascertain and correct patient's problem with his adjusting room prowess.
"Just wondering," I asked. "Just what is your job?"
There was a period of silence. The answer to this question would provide some powerful insights into where this doctor was stuck.
"Well, I'm much more a fan of D. D. than B. J.," he prefaced. "So, I guess I see my job as "connecting man the physical with man the spiritual."
So while he had risen above the biomechanical or symptomatological focus of being a chiropractor, he overlooked the fact that if he was to enjoy financial ease and emotional peace, he was actually in the belief-changing business. Because I'm guessing that getting "connected" is rarely, if ever, mentioned by patients as a motive for beginning care in his practice.
Only problem is, there isn't a single course at any chiropractic college that addresses how to go about setting the stage to facilitate someone abandoning an old belief in favor of a new one. Which seems essential if you have any hope of rising above a pain clinic.
But let's say you were to place greater focus on the belief-changing aspects of chiropractic. What would that look like? Feel like? Sound like?
"You've Gotta Come See My Chiropractor!"
If you're truly committed to affecting a change in consciousness, my guess is that you'll need to do more than put the obligatory self-serve brochure rack on the wall and a couple of wall posters. If you were to reinvent your practice by starting with the premise that the cerebral cortex is the most important part of the nervous system, not the spinal cord and nerve roots, I wonder if your practice environment would need to change? I'm guessing it would.
Your practice environment would need to be far more arresting, even edgy. Your motive would be to create a setting that stimulates curiosity, prompts questions and even pokes fun at the prevailing deceptions held by the general public. Yes, there will likely be a huge helping of political incorrectness as you make hamburger of the sacred cows of mainstream health care. Only a few will be offended. Most will praise your courage and confidence. It will serve to attract those with the increasingly rare gene of critical thinking; the mavericks, misfits and the fun-to-be-with folks who color outside the lines.
Turns out such an intellectually stimulating environment becomes a powerful magnet. Patients will drag their friends along just to see firsthand this unusual tribute you've created to the idea of self-healing ability of the body.
The Holy Grail
One person feels some TMJ pain and muscle tightness and marches to the medicine cabinet to ingest a drug designed to fool the body so it won't feel the pain. Another person feels the same TMJ pain and muscle tightness and takes an inventory of their life and explores what they may have "bitten off that is more than they can chew." Same symptoms, very different responses.
Software (beliefs) control hardware (behavior). Always.
The meaning that patients attach to aches and pains and muscle spasms and all the rest is the Holy Grail. Obviously, you have little hope of helping patients give their symptoms greater context and meaning if you won't talk about their symptoms. As in, "We don't talk about symptoms here because you can't judge your health by how you feel. After all, what's the first symptom of most heart attacks? Death!"
Congratulations. You won the battle, but lost the war.
True patient education is about creating context and meaning. It's not about explaining disc spacing or lordotic curves or millimeters or phases. Important, but not the main event.
Context - The medical paradigm is focused on the problem in the person. Chiropractic is focused on the person with the problem. All matter of aches and pains are part of the patient's life. As in, with whom are they angry or resentful? Who haven't they forgiven? What is causing them physical, chemical or emotional stress? Start your patient education overtures here. It's not about being a social worker, counselor or psychologist. This is about showing up interested in the patient's life, not just their spine.
Meaning - Working backwards, what does the symptom they're feeling actually mean? What might their body be trying to tell its owner? What does the pain potentially reveal? What role might the nervous system play? Get ready for a series of "I don't knows" from the patient. Of course they don't know. They're disembodied and out of touch with the soul package they live in. If little else, help every patient understand that pain is often a signal to stop, take inventory and change. Think of it as homework that "…we can discuss on your next visit."
Be sure to follow up on their next visit!
Asking, Not Just Telling
What many fail to realize is that the secret to being a great communicator isn't in having a large vocabulary. Although being able to make finer and finer distinctions through language is helpful. And being a great communicator isn't about being eloquent. Although that too can be helpful. And while these aspects attract a lot of attention, they are not the key to effective communication. Instead, that mantle is bestowed upon those who are... great listeners.
In fact, ask patients what they are most impressed about when consulting a doctor (of any ilk) and many will mention the luxury of speaking without interruption. Wise chiropractors know this and speak little and interrupt even less.
Turns out that even the most disembodied patient knows the patient better than you do. And given enough time they will reveal the cause, location and adjustment necessary without the necessity of examination room showmanship or clinical diagnosis insights.
Show up curious. Ask questions. Listen. Really listen. With both ears. Rinse and repeat.
Create Something New
If you're actually interested in changing patients, realize that you can't. Only they have the freedom and ability to do something that significant. Instead, concentrate on creating a catalytic environment in which to lead, provoke and inspire them to a higher understanding. Do that and you will have done far more than change their biomechanics and reduce their nervous system interference. You will have changed the world.
Are you up for it?
As Buckminster Fuller put it, "You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete."