“What people are craving for is the opportunity to tell their story. We are humans, and we must keep humanity in health care.”
I’ve been involved in personal training for the last few years, and I recently received my Kinesiologist certification upon college graduation. For over a year, I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have a job that involves working with a diverse set of populations, from post-operative patients to those with multiple sclerosis, and virtually everything in between. Although my approach to training varies for each individual, there is one principle that remains tried-and-true.
We all have a story to tell, and it must be heard.
At the beginning of my degree, I was advised to utilize motivational interviewing (MI) when initially conversing with clients. A trainer will use MI to strategically encourage their client to elicit behavior change through positive self-talk, eventually shifting them down the wellness continuum from contemplation and self-doubt to confidence and the maintenance of health.
A critical strategy of MI is to keep history questions open-ended, allowing the client to go further than a simple “yes” or a “no” response — to tell the whole story if you will. Although I understood the premise of this practice at the time, it felt quite abstract as I wasn’t getting any first-hand experience.
Flash to present day, and motivational interviewing has become one of the most important life lessons to date. In Kinesiology, a highly mechanical and concrete field, the ‘soft’ skills of empathetic listening and communication remain the cornerstones of effective training. Regardless of who someone is, or what they’re carrying, each individual story matters and needs to be heard. Coincidently, what people are craving for the most is the chance to tell that story. We are humans, and we must keep humanity in health care by creating this opportunity.
It all goes back to the complexity of wellness. Mechanical issues aren’t always caused (or solved) by mechanical factors. This is where health care has had shortcomings in recent years. To look past the diverse needs of a patient, and go straight to an X-ray machine or pill bottle? That’s just attempting a simple solution to a complex problem.
There’s a staggering statistic out of Seattle from Dr. David Hanscom, a renowned spinal surgeon, that shows that considering other causes of back pain (many being psychological) before surgery can greatly increase post-operative success rates. This means that a patient actually feels better after surgery. The numbers? A drastic shift from a miserable 30% rate, to nearly nine successes for every ten surgeries. It’s almost unbelievable. Furthermore, as the ‘victory’ rate soars, so does clinical prevention, as thousands of patients are able to avoid the operating theatre through holistic interventions.
We’re always looking for a way to fix things right away. Why not just be there?
To be an efficacious provider, one must consider the other dimensions of life that may be at play, such as stressors in the workplace or family home. This is a great example of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. In order to achieve self-actualization (working towards optimal health), you need to feel protected and loved first. In a clinical setting, nothing can fulfill this better than empathetic listening. Seek to understand before being understood.
This space in which one is allowed to speak freely has been termed as ‘Psychological Air’ by several authors. It is the phenomenon that empathetic listening provides the client with a chance to exhale emotionally. Only once that breath has been taken, can they have the capacity to grow and develop in other areas.
This practice is something that I must hold myself to on a daily basis. Before I see a limping gait, I see a human. Before I see a frozen shoulder, I see a unique story.
By nature, we’re all storytellers. It’s how we’ve passed down our culture for millennia. What people are craving for right now is the opportunity to share their own narrative. Please hear me when I say that this is NOT limited to the health care profession! Whether you’re an accountant, teacher, husband, or friend — take a moment to listen in. Provide a little psychological air. It may take an extra ten minutes, but I can assure you that it’s time well spent. Put yourself in their position, you’d want the exact same thing.
“Learning to stand in someone’s shoes, to see through their eyes…that’s the quality that can change the world”. -Barack Obama