A first time patient comes into my office. I attentively listen to their story, ask pertinent questions, order tests when necessary, make an assessment and recommend a course of treatment. The prescription of medication is often involved. Thankfully, most people get better. But why do they get better? Was it the medication, the talking therapy or just the “tincture of time?” I would like to think that it was my careful choice of medication while the psychotherapist will want to take credit for their role. I think that the honest answer is more than the sum of these parts.
I would like to suggest that there is a component of treatment often ignored. It is the power of hope. Hope you say! What does this four letter word have to do with medical care? It certainly has no relationship to the tremendous advances in medical science and technology that exist today. I don’t want to minimize the power of medical science. But I contend that in fact the power of hope provides an essential component of the therapeutic process.
Maurice Lamm, a respected theologian has suggested that the ability to hope is uniquely human. He believes hope is what separates homo sapiens from other animal species. Our ability to look into the future and anticipate positive change is what sets us apart. Hope is everywhere, we just don’t know it. We tend not to even look for it. We are all too preoccupied with our internal ruminative self talk. Hope allows us to see beyond the here-and-now no matter how painful the present is. Unfortunately, most of us get stuck in our present circumstances and are unable to step outside of this black box. We just suffer.
We are not born with a negative hopeless mental set. Hope is actually built into our consciousness, we just don’t know it. In fact, hope is an adaptive and health-inspiring core component of the human psyche. It can be fostered but this requires an active effort on our part. It is blocked by anger, sorrow and despair. Our loops of negative self talk keep it hidden. The resultant hopelessness is extraordinarily painful and self perpetuating.
This brings us back to the patient in my office. Most individuals present with feeling stuck in the emotional state that they present with. How to help this person access their own inner hopefulness? I have found that the first step is to educate the patient in an understandable manner, that he/she can take a healthy ownership for the illness and most importantly to take ownership for their treatment and anticipated recovery. This is in many respects a team process with the patient and I joining forces to combat their suffering. It is not until the patient recognizes that I serve only as a facilitator of recovery and that their ability to recover is an ember waiting to ignite. Education is the key. Knowledge about their illness and treatment opens the door to recovery. Recovery requires that I have an active partner in this alliance.
Even if the initial course of treatment is not fully successful hope is buoyed by an open and honest discussion about the treatment to date and the rationale for the next step. It is empowering for the individual to be part of this process. It has been my experience that this active interaction between patient and myself maintains the installation of hope. One cannot just fill out a prescription for a medication. One must prescribe hope.
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In Getting to Know Anxiety Drs. Rosen and Gross offer readers an overview of today’s challenging mental health issues and the most current treatment methods available, as well as practical strategies for mental and emotional self-care.
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