The effect of this on the body can feel absolutely awful. It can stop you in your tracks or create an uneasy sense that the world is about to open up and swallow you in.
Recently I published a statement on my website that unexpectedly pushed me outside my comfort zone. “There should be no division between conventional and complementary medicine; just best medicine to serve that unique individual”, I announced. Since the evidence shows that 70% of people in Australia use one form of complementary therapy, (see more here) you would think that I’m relieved knowing that the odds of people agreeing with me were in my favour.
However the flight and fight response pinging away in my limbic brain said otherwise. I felt uneasy…. Like waiting to be hauled in front of the medical board kind of uneasy.
So I question myself. If this action feels so uncomfortable, why put myself through it?
Whilst my amygdala (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amygdala_hijack) is yelling “press delete, press delete”, the desire to be authentic, to voice my opinion and have it count for something, rises up from within.
I am not denying the benefits of what conventional medicine offers. As a GP with a ton of clinical experience (see blog post here) I would never deny what standard medical care offers. That would be ludicrous.
It is more the “one size fits all” prescriptive approach that I have a bug bear with. Countless times patients have shared with me how they feel disempowered with the conventional system. Not heard or engaged in the process. Their stories highlight a paternalistic model of care, a “let me tell you what’s best without asking you your needs, expectations or desired care” approach that society in general is outgrowing.
Recently my patient Thomas saw another GP for back pain. After a 10-minute consultation he was given a prescription for antidepressants and 100 Panadeine Forte tablets.
Hmmm…. I hear you say?
Now this may be the appropriate management for some, but within the first 10 minutes of our consult it was clear to me that this wasn’t the best medicine for Thomas.
Five years ago, he suffered a work-related back injury. With this, his life was dramatically turned upside down. Previously a fit football loving and happy person, pain now ruled his life. He was struggling to do the most simple of tasks.
During this time, Thomas had tried different types of antidepressants and found that they didn’t work or made him feel worse. Understandably he didn’t want to take them again. Plus he felt that the cause of his depression related to his back pain and loss of function. He wanted to treat the cause of his pain and felt that the treatment prescribed so far wasn’t doing this.
Yet, Thomas’ efforts had so far been futile. General Practitioners, Sport’s Physicians, Orthopaedic Surgeons, Physiotherapists, Psychologists, Personal Trainers, pain relief, MRI’s, CT scans and so on. Nothing had worked.
It seemed that Thomas had exhausted standard treatment options and he was a mess.
So as a GP what should I recommend? I could prescribe a medication that clearly hasn’t worked before and unlikely to work this time? Or perhaps give an opinion as fact like so many doctors do and tell him “there’s nothing more that can be done”.
Instead, I ask Thomas whether he would be interested in opening the doors to other potential therapies, so called “complementary therapies”. Thomas immediately lit up. This is what he had wanted to do for ages but didn’t know where to start.
We plotted out our proposed management plan with complementary therapies to be used in conjunction with his current pain medications. He decided to trial acupuncture, osteopathy, meditation, address his diet and lifestyle including evaluating other stress management techniques. We had a plan and Thomas felt like he was the driver of his decisions.
Thomas left my consultation smiling, filled with hope yet realistic. I didn’t promise him a cure. I made it clear that with some complementary therapies there is limited evidence of effectiveness. But that doesn’t mean they don’t work or that there is no role for them in his management. I explained that the path ahead is uncertain but I promised him support along the way.
How and when we incorporate complementary therapies into his care requires thorough evaluation of his situation and risk. Really, this should happen regardless of whether the treatment is conventionally accepted or not. My role is to empower him with his choices, even if this means using complementary therapies to augment standard care. I explain that I can help him appraise any evidence of harm of treatments including side effects and cost, and weigh this up against other possible therapies. My role is to support him to navigate the entire health system including both conventional and complementary therapies to help find the best medicine for him.
There is a common assumption that we have to choose between conventional and complementary therapies. Recently I had a patient who commented that she was surprised that I would be prescribing conventional medicines because I was into natural therapies.
Whoah. Hold on now!
I reassured her that MY approach is about finding what is right for the patient and in some cases this clearly means conventional therapy. In certain circumstances, the benefits of standard medical care outweigh any harm, and supersede any complementary therapy by itself. I’ve seen patients so focused on natural therapies that they fail to see the gift that conventional therapy offers. Gently helping patients explore their fears and judgement around medical management is one of the most rewarding aspects of my work.
So I decided to publish my statement despite the uneasy feeling and clammy hands. Being so passionate about this gives power to my desire to be authentic. Being authentic is like a proclamation of self-love to the universe. In that moment we open ourselves to the infinite (it's like we are saying "yes, more please!") and are lifted into the perfection of our soul. From this place, creative and supporting energy flows to us and we can blaze even more brightly. Being authentic is an ever-evolving process, never static and constantly being defined as we expand our consciousness into the truth of who we are.
Of course, being authentic is not all peace, love and mung beans. Consider some of the great leaders who have blazed authentically in the world. I’m certain Nelson Mandela, Albert Einstein, or Oprah Winfrey would be the first to say that it can bring criticism and challenging times. Yet would they regret it, even if it created a ripple against the norm? I doubt they would.
Rather then the retribution I was expecting, I received emails and messages from strangers complimenting me on standing for something that resonated so strongly in their hearts. For one woman, it was so significant to her that she cried when she read it. I know we should be able to give ourselves the approval that we need and not rely on external approval to feel good. But it is a natural human response to want validation, feel appreciated and valued. It feels awesome to receive this encouragement.
So here is my encouragement to you. You know that voice within that has been guiding you to change? To be more YOU in the world? To no longer hide behind a mask or pretend anymore?
It’s worth listening to.
It’s giving you an opportunity to blaze. To tap into that infinite field of unconditional love. To feel good and create a better life.
So give it a go. Remember progress not perfection. Take one step forward, for it’s time to shine!