Lise Alschuler, ND, FABNO highlights the most valuable gifts practitioners can give patients.

by Lise Alschuler, ND, FABNO

The holidays inspire generosity in almost everyone.  It seems the only time of year when nearly everyone is happiest when they gift others. True, receiving gifts is joyful too, but it occurs to me that the most cherished moments of this time of year are those in which gifts are given. These gifts come in many guises.  There are actual presents wrapped in colorful paper and bows. There are holiday parties with sweets and merriment. There are laughs shared easily between friends and strangers alike.  Families gather together and share meals in rooms strewn with colorful lights and candles.  During this time of gifts, it behooves us, practitioners of holistic medicine, to ask ourselves how we gift our patients.

Of course, you may have your own ideas about the ways in which you gift your patients.  I offer two gifts that we providers can uniquely provide to our patients. These gifts are of the most honorable kind in that the recipients may not even realize that they are receiving a gift. These gifts also require the giver to be of generous heart and clear mind.  And, these gifts are priceless. 

The first gift is the gift of presence, not presents! One of the most powerful distinguishing features of integrative healthcare practitioners is our dedication to being present for each of our patients. We create a space that allows us to attentively listen to each patient. We strive to establish a connection to our patients such that they can express their experience of disease and their desires for greater health.  We are not distracted by the pull of power, status, multitasking or boredom.  We fully witness each patient.  This experience of being fully attended to by another human being is appallingly rare for most people.  Our ability and willingness to create this experience for our patients is one of the most fundamental ways in which we cultivate wellness.  Holding our patients in a place of unconditional love enlivens the healing power inherent within them.  From this connection, health grows.   Simply being present with a feeling of unconditional positive regard is a gift of immeasurable significance to our patients.

The second gift that integrative healthcare practitioners can give to our patients is the gift of independence.  If the goal of integrative healthcare is to (re)create wellness in our patients, then we must, by definition, teach our patients how to live well.  In addition to utilizing the tools of our trade to support a patient’s journey towards greater health, we also guide our patients towards self-reliance and empowerment.  The most successful practitioners create self-reliant patients who are competent practitioners of their own healthcare.  The alternative is to have cadres of loyal patients who faithfully and endlessly return for treatment for the same issue(s).  I would assert that some of these patients have been denied the ultimate gift of healing – self-reliance. 

What a true gift is given when a patient learns how to care for herself and to create more health in her life.   Creating this independence for our patients is the ultimate gift of altruism and faith.  This gift can only be given by practitioners who teach their patients and who believe in the capabilities of their patients.  This teaching and this trust in patients are themselves gifts.  As with most gifts, the giving is immensely gratifying too.  Witnessing our patients regain their sense of empowerment about their own wellness is perhaps the most satisfying result of our work.  With this satisfaction felt, we add our gift to the many gifts of this season.   In this way, we engage in the deepest level of giving that our work offers – the gift of sustainable wellness.  

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