How I learned to deal with frustrating patients, and other life lessons from the clinic

5f468e98I’m not proud to admit that I used to get frustrated with some of my patients. Usually, one of several things would happen. Sometimes I would suggest things that they weren’t willing to try. Sometimes I felt like I knew what their problems were and was frustrated they didn’t see the same things I did. Sometimes we just didn’t click.

Whatever the reason, the friction I experienced with some of my patients was the biggest frustration of my whole practice. Sometimes one ‘bad’ patient would ruin my whole day.

About a year after I started my practice I made some changes that eliminated about 95% of all frustrations with my patients. My practice began to grow and thrive and I looked forward to work, it felt like a privilege. Some days I can’t believe that I get to do this for a living. Isn’t a career supposed to be hard?

Now if you aren’t someone who treats patients for a living, you may be wondering what this has to do with you, but trust me, the lessons I learned from this experience apply to everyone. Keep reading, I promise this will be worth it.

Know what you don’t do:

I can be really hard for a lot of us to talk about what we are good at. But it is usually pretty clear to all of us what we don’t excel at. I used to beat myself up for what I wasn’t good at, until I realized that trying to be good at everything, just made it so that I excelled at nothing. When I got really clear on what I didn’t want to do in my practice, it was really easy to let go it and make room for what I wanted to do more of.

I was a massage therapist before I got my acupuncture degree. When I set up my practice I felt obligated to provide some massage with each treatment. Problem was, I was totally burnt-out on massage. As soon as I let go of feeling like I needed to give a massage with my treatments I felt so much better. When I saw a patient that could really benefit from some body work, I simply referred them to a bodyworker.Allison040 copy

Tweet this: Knowing what you don’t want to do, frees you up to really focus on what you do well.

Be yourself from the very beginning:

I used to feel like I had to tone down parts of my personality to be accepted. Especially in a professional setting. I came up with this professional persona that felt about as comfortable as a pair of ill-fitting formal slacks. I was afraid that if I let people know who I was, they wouldn’t want to be my patients.

For some people that was true, but what I didn’t realize is that the people who were turned off by parts of my lifestyle were not people I wanted to serve. For instance I used to keep the pronoun of my partner private (I’m gay) and my spirituality private (I’m a witch) for fear that I might offend someone. But honestly I really didn’t want to attract prejudiced  patients AND I really did want to let other people who identified as queer or witchy know they could find an understanding practitioner in me.

The turning point in all of this is when I figured out that if I just advertised who I was up front, I could let potential problem patients self-select out. The less I tried to hide it, the less I actually had to deal with it, because people who might have a problem with me just didn’t book appointments. I NEVER HAD TO MEET THEM.

Know what you are really here to do:

I started out my practice feeling like my job was to solve problems for people and to fix what was wrong for them.

You can imagine my frustration when I ran into people who didn’t want my advice or suggestions. Didn’t they want their problem solved? Wasn’t that why they were coming in?

It was my studies in Classical Five Element Acupuncture that finally helped me figure out why my approach wasn’t working, and what I was really here to do.

I came to realize that illness wasn’t a PROBLEM to be fixed. But an invitation to deeper understanding. Each person has inside them a spirit that is far more resilient than any illness or injury. If you are open to it, any illness can be an invitation to know that side of yourself more deeply.

My job wasn’t to solve or fix, it was to witness. It was to see that spirit inside everyone I meet, whether they can see it yet or not. That was my main job, first and foremost. This freed me up to be on the same side as my patients, not opposing them. If occasionally I was able to give a gentle nudge towards better self-care or a supplement that made them more comfortable, I would do that too. But the journey was always theirs, it was never mine to direct or control.

Changing life long bad habits is hard. No one makes lasting change from a place of judgement or fear. The reasons my patients were reluctant to try herbs, or exercise more weren’t because they were trying to be difficult. Often they were overwhelmed, or scared, or wanting to hang onto a bit of emotional comfort. When I stopped trying to lecture them, and just let them know I supported them, we were able to address the fear and the overwhelm. That is when real change started happening.

Once I realized this something else amazing happened. I found that when you are looking at the spirit inside someone, they are never frustrating or annoying. Sometimes they are hurt, or wounded, but they are never frustrating. If I found a patient frustrating, I realized it wasn’t because of anything wrong with them, it was because I had lost sight of my main job.

Whatever you do for a living, if you are feeling frustrated with someone, I hope some of these suggestions help.

If you are a healer and want to explore more ways to turn your practice into something deeply satisfying and rewarding, check out my group mentorship for healers starting this April.

 

 

 

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Leave a Comment

  • Hilarey March 18, 2015, 5:12 PM

    Thanks, Allison, I enjoy your posts – thoughts, vulnerability, honesty and subject matter. Blessings to you and your beloveds!

    Reply
    • Allison Carr March 18, 2015, 5:22 PM

      Thank you Hilarey!

      Reply
  • Lisa March 19, 2015, 8:20 AM

    Thanks Allison, for sharing your insights. I too had a similar revelation when I realized my “job” was to create a safe space for healing, one without judgement or shame, and then get out of the way. What a difference this simple shift has made! Thanks again for your inspiration.
    Peace,
    Lisa

    Reply
    • Allison Carr March 19, 2015, 10:13 AM

      Thank you so much Lisa! Yes, I love the way you put that: Create a safe container and then just get out of the way!

      Reply