Oftentimes, when I am meeting with a new patient and reviewing their history, their response to my inquiry as to what brings them to the center is: “I am…” or “I have…” (Bi-Polar, ADHD, GAD, PMS, diabetes, cancer etc.) followed by a series of explanations of what they have done to manage and care for their disorder. There we are, starting the introduction and reviewing the diagnosis and treatment for the person. In addition, their history is typically a portfolio of all the treatments and doctors that have not worked adequately enough, otherwise they would not be sitting across from me.
After a while I reflect on what I am hearing, I often look across the room and wonder in true amazement, who is this person, really? Why have I been graced by their presence? I listen with great intent to their frustrations, disappointments, fears, hurt, and at times their anger, resulting in part from the place they find themselves in with no apparent way out. I watch and listen to the explanations they have been given for their conditions, to the various opinions they have received, to the different treatments that have helped or not, but more so to their present state of despair. I attempt to join them as best I can, while humbly remaining present in this moment as I become aware of the privilege of being with them.
“Hopefully, in the future and perhaps even now, we can offer a more enlightened and progressive approach that will put matters of the soul first, so that we can address the living and loving being that sits behind the mask of conditions that surround them.”
As I begin to experience this person, this soul that is behind the walls of language and cognitive structures of their beliefs. While perhaps hidden, nonetheless a part of them is in pain, pain that they are wishing to be free of. However, what I believe is that this person is more than the diagnosis or history that they are presenting me with. They may know that, or maybe they have forgotten because they are lost in the understanding of who they have been told they are by others.
Symptoms, conditions, and syndromes are important to understand and address. Yes, the type of pain they are experiencing is of interest. The nature and process of their pain are relevant just as is their medications, genetics, etc. However what sits behind the mask of these conditions is a person; a being, a soul, one who may be fearful, detached, lost, and now these exterior physical complications are a part of that disconnection. What is known to all (in science as well) is the state of the individual and the role it plays in healing and recovery. Yet because this “state” is of an intangible nature, it is often not addressed. In medicine, we may not know how to address it, or it might take up too much time because it is ambiguous. Because it is not defined as a symptom, it would not fall under evidence-based medicine. Even in mental health, we may dismiss it because it seems beyond the mental process. How ridiculously silly of us to ignore the component of “experience” in our approach to health.
I can only imagine that in the future, how we presently manage these tangible and diagnostic aspects of our lives now, will be seen as having been a primitive and limited approach to health. Hopefully, in the future and perhaps even now, we can offer a more enlightened and progressive approach that will put matters of the soul first, so that we can address the living and loving being that sits behind the mask of conditions that surround them. Perhaps by giving a greater emphasis to that being, we can better overcome the tangle of bio-social conditions that hampers our health and well-being. While language and science are fundamentally important, we are much more than a diagnosis.