Patients, Practitioners, and Power Struggles

I had a great conversation with a patient the other night. It stemmed from another conversation that I had participated in that involved a few different acupuncturists of wildly varying mindsets. One of these acupuncturists was very offended that a patient requested a different type of treatment than what she was used to providing. In one camp, there were those who drew clear lines between the power of the patient and practitioner. These acupuncturists viewed the patient's input as akin to telling a surgeon how to operate.  On the other end of the spectrum were the practitioners who saw the treatment as more of a business transaction. To them, the situation was comparable to telling a hairdresser to keep your length, and ending up with short hair. In both situations, there is a professional with an opinion borne (hopefully) of expertise, and someone arranging to see that person specifically for that knowledge and expertise. But in the end, the question is: who should have more power to make decisions in the treatment process, the patient or the practitioner? I, personally, love when my patients make special requests for particular points or adjuncts. I love seeing patients that are so in tune with their bodies and health, that they can feel the specific effects of certain needles. I love knowing that they are comfortable enough with me to let me know what they really enjoy having done during the course of a session. And I really do believe that we know, deep down inside, what is best for our bodies. Intuition is a powerful thing. We often choose to ignore it for the pleasure of the moment, but that doesn't mean it's broken. We just often hit the override switch in order to satisfy our hedonistic desires. I'm not judging, believe me. This is coming from a woman who finished an entire Nutella and bacon crepe on her last day of vacation, all the while praying that her inflamed and stone-filled gallbladder didn't blow at any moment ;) Did I know that this was a poor move? Yes. But if you saw this thing you wouldn't have been able to stop yourself, either!

Point being, we often lose faith in our own ability to truly know our bodies, and what they need. It's a muscle that isn't often exercised because there is usually someone else there to feed you an opinion. When we are children, our parents are "in charge" of our health. Then, we get older. The docs tell us what to do. We follow orders. Or, we don't. Those who are compliant, those who follow the rules, are deemed as "healthy." And those who don't are subject to a certain degree of judgment from others. If a healthy, fit runner has a heart attack, it's a tragedy. Throw on a few extra pounds and a love for bacon cheeseburgers and people are full of opinions. Well, no wonder. We all saw that coming. What did you expect, with the way he ate and drank?  

In both Western and Eastern medicine, there seems to be a paternalistic attitude toward those who are perceived as non-compliant. I used to see it with some of my mother's doctors growing up...that overall vibe of "do what I say or go away."  My mother has always been one to place her intuition above medical advice, and with all of her health mishaps, she has good reason to. She is rather shy, not one to make waves, and will go out of her way to avoid conflict, but I could still sense the internal eye-rolling of various health practitioners when she quietly questioned their choices for her. How dare she have an opinion about her own health?

There's a middle ground, of course. There always is.  You can listen to all that good advice about eating well and exercising and reducing stress, and also listen to that little voice that tells you what your body needs. Because in the end, it's your body. You are ultimately in control of how you choose to treat it, and seeing any sort of healthcare provider shouldn't be a power struggle.  You should have a voice. And if you don't, it may be time to move on to someone who allows you one.