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Adjusting Your Sails

Are you merely and optimist?Over the years, especially at speaking gigs, I've asserted that if you have any hope of attracting a tribe of wellness-oriented cash-paying practice members, you're actually in the belief-changing business. Not the pain relief business. Not the spine straightening business. Not the curve restoration business. And not in the chiropractic business.

Moving a patient (and ironically, some chiropractors!) from thinking of chiropractic as a treatment for various spinal conditions, in favor of seeing it as a discipline focused on whole-body health by optimizing nervous system function, is essential if you hope to interest patients in using chiropractic proactively as a long term health adjunct.

Yet, not a single course at chiropractic colleges is devoted to patient belief changing. Thus, even the most principle-oriented chiropractic colleges are unwitting accomplices to the medicalization of chiropractic, disgorging graduates who discover they must become new patient marketing machines to constantly replace patients who come in for a brief "diet" of symptomatic relief.

This has spawned a parasitic industry of consultants who teach chiropractors manipulative techniques to overpower a patient's free will and inclination to stop care when their symptoms resolve.

But this is classic symptom treating. And like all symptom treating, it's reactive, expensive and ineffective.

If you truly want the financial security and soul-satisfying benefits of practicing chiropractic, it would seem to me that you would want to…

1. Practice chiropractic rather than chiropractic medicine (using adjustments to treat neck and back pain), and

2. Master the ability to create a shift in the beliefs of patients, inspiring them to become practice members.

I'll reserve the first point for another time in favor of exploring some of the essential strategies of the second.

Software Controls Hardware

Many chiropractors get seduced into responding to what patients do. Their behaviors. Their health habits. Their visit follow-through. Again, this is classic symptom treating. What patients (or any of us) do is the result of our beliefs—even if we're not mindful of them. Virtually everything we do is largely an attempt to remaining congruent to our core beliefs. Even if, as they are for many people, they've never thought about what those beliefs are. So, if you want to know what someone believes, simply reverse engineer his or her behaviors!

But there's another layer. Turns out, our beliefs are merely the underlying "software" that help us operationalize our desires. Think of it this way:

Desires → Beliefs → Behaviors
If you have any hope of profoundly influencing patients, you'd be far better off acknowledging their underlying desires and beliefs, rather than creating procedures, policies and scripting designed to address their behaviors.

The First Right Answer

If this model isn't true, or if you have a better one, I'd sure like to know what it is. But if it is true that desires produce beliefs which lead to behaviors, then seems to me you'd want to uncover what patient's desire.

What do patients want?

This isn't a trick question. Turns out many simply want pain relief. And it's tempting to leave it at that. But dig deeper, beyond the first right answer, and you'll discover that the relief they seek is because their discomfort is preventing them from doing or being something far more dear to them. In other words, they're in your practice not because they want better health, but because their lack of it is interfering with something they value even higher than their health.

Do you know what it is?

Granted, there is the "thank-God-it's-Friday" crowd who desire little more than pain relief and surviving until the weekend. But the most promising practice members are those who have dreams. Seems to me you'd want to know what they are so you can help them achieve them.

"Over the years we've learned that many people consult our practice because they have an ache or pain. Their health challenge is interfering with something that they value even more than their health; their ability to be a good parent, their golf game, keeping up with their grandchildren, running a marathon or simply to be able to enjoy life to the full. I'm curious. Why do you want your health back?"
Chances are, some patients aren't present to these underlying motives. Others are. If you're greeted by a blank stare, encourage them to think about it and make a note to discuss it on a subsequent visit. Helping patients have this deeper awareness, or inspiring them to dream a bigger dream than mere survival, may be one of the most significant things you do.

What Doesn't Work

If you're hoping to cultivate long term relationships, inspiring patients to become practice members, your best shot is linking their deepest desires with the authentic true health that is only possible with an optimally functioning nervous system available from periodic chiropractic care. For life.

Charging patients for missed appointments won't do it.

Scolding patients to stop smoking or lose weight won't do it.

Bringing them to tears at the X-ray view box won't do it.

Ear raping them as they lie face down on your table won't do it.

Trying to sell them care they don't want won't do it.

Reducing your fees or demanding they agree to an annual care plan won't do it.

Making them feel ashamed or guilty when discontinuing care won't do it.

Attempting to install a new belief is far more difficult than linking what they already believe and value, with the chiropractic care you offer. That doesn't make it easier. It simply improves the odds.

Reminds me of a couple of sailing proverbs. "We can't change the direction of the wind, but we can adjust the trim of our sails." And, "The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts his sails."

Are you a pessimist, optimist or realist?

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Comments (3)

Bill, loved your post. It gets me back on track. It's amazing how easily I fall back on old scripts and forget what is most important.

For years at seminars we would hear: "If people knew what you knew, they would do what you do". In other words, if we would just educate them about chiropractic, they would get it and do regular chiropractic care for wellness. We were duped. You hit the nail on the head, "people do what they do because they want what they want". Period.

Thanks for reminding me about this.


Great blog. I get the best communication and connection with clients when I set down with them and ask them how their issues affect their life. Amazing the answers that you get, and the increased awareness of why they are in your office. You can pick up on those that want relief care, and those that want their health back. When we are all on the same page, things become much easier. Thank you for a great blog.


Absolutely Bill!
Chiropractic medecine is expensive and only moderately effective for the resolution of neck and back pain, while perhaps better than stomach bleeds etc from NSAIDs it is still pretty average.
Real value I find in practice is when we get to celebrate getting back into the sport that the person had given up on, and hearing the 82 y/o widow is no longer afraid to walk down her driveway lest she fall.
Perhaps best of all is catching up with someone who has been busy with things other than regular chiropractic care, who returns in acute pain, but has decided to change their destructive lifestyle and sees periodic adjustments as an essential element of that change.

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From May 11, 2013 11:08 AM

This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on May 11, 2013 11:08 AM.

The previous post in this blog was "Ping" With Postcards.

The next post in this blog is "Once You Got to a Chiropractor, You Have to Go...".

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.