Sharon Ufberg, DC discusses the challenges of treating a patient’s immediate symptoms over advising them about lifestyle changes.

by Sharon Ufberg, DC

We all have patients whose lives are spinning out of control.  Their work to private life balance is upside down and they show up in our offices in various states of acute and chronic “dis-ease.” They have lost the connection of their bodies with their emotional and psychological self. They tend to be overly committed to highly stressful jobs, and are poorly nourished and sleep deprived. Their lifestyles are erratic and their schedules are jammed with obligations every day and every night.

Do you recognize this patient yet? This man or woman usually squeezes you in at lunch or is the last patient of the day, arrives apologetically 10 – 15 minutes late and reschedules frequently.

Due to their high level of physical discomfort they arrange several appointments per month with a variety of practitioners that become a lifeline to a potentially better way of living. These multiple practitioners work to keep this patient going on this exhausting treadmill week after week.

The momentary relief of symptoms, a few minutes of relaxation, or a half hour of rest is all they are looking for from you. But what about your relationship to this patient and their care? It is enormously difficult to coach a patient about a healthier and pain-free life when their top concern is just to get to the next meeting on time, make their plane or close the deal. There is no motivation to change their lifestyle yet they anxiously await the next free spot in their hectic schedule to see you again.

What happens when the practitioner and patient do not share the same vision of the ideal outcome? When do we give ourselves permission to just treat today’s symptoms and relinquish the role of health coach or lifestyle consultant, nutritional counselor or exercise advisor?

I decide my first goal is to try not to be judgmental. Living a more balanced and mindful life is a personal choice—not a mandate. How to enjoy life, how to love and be loved and how to attain our individual life goals is not achieved with the same formula for everyone. We each have our own timeline and this patient is, after all, seeking help from you and other health practitioners.

The method that works for alleviating my need to share advice with this patient about the “bigger picture” goals of wellness and lifestyle changes is to meet the patient where they are at this moment in time.

Just this week I was able to discuss the benefits of a short twenty minute “power nap” with a patient who continually suffers from not enough rest. Instead of encouraging the patient to turn in earlier at night and describing all the reasons why this would be advisable, I instead spoke about the increased creativity and alertness a short nap during the day generates for one’s productivity. I even mentioned a few places in New York City that now have “nap rooms” with reclining chairs for their employees. I suggested that on days that this patient is not napping at his appointments he should try closing his door and catching a few ZZZ’s at his desk.

In these situations, the ideal outcome is when the patient finds that the advice makes sense, is doable and from the practitioner’s perspective has brought someone one step closer to a healthier place.

Other articles by this author:

IHS Topic To hear more about this topic first-hand, attend Workshop: Mind-Body Techniques for Stress and Depression at the 2009 Integrative Healthcare Symposium. Integrative Practitioner members get 15% off Symposium registration when they enter discount code7470.