heart made out of pills

Recently, I led a teleclass with Dr. Bruce Lipton, author of The Biology Of Belief  and The Honeymoon Effect, as part of my Whole Health Medicine Institute MD training. During the class, we talked about the role of the doctor, and Bruce told the Whole Health Medicine Institute doctors a story about a physician who claimed that his job was to help his patients maintain the status quo in their lifestyles- even if that lifestyle was, for the most part, unhealthy. In other words, he was willing to address diet and exercise lifestyle issues if he felt it would benefit the patient, but he believed it wasn’t the physician’s job to get involved in whether a toxic relationship might be making the patient sick- or whether a soul-sucking job might be causing symptoms in the body- or whether an illness might be the result of a thwarted dream or a financial worry.

The doctor believed that his job was to medicate the symptoms so the patient could stay in the bad marriage or the unhappy job, so they could keep thwarting dreams and worrying about their finances- symptom-free. He believed his role was more that of pharmacist than therapist, and that the role of intruding into the personal life of the patient belonged more to the therapist than to the physician.

The Doctor As Mirror

Bruce and I both blatantly disagree. In fact, the nature of the doctor-patient relationship is at the core of what I’m teaching to both patients and health care providers in Mind Over Medicine. I believe it is ESSENTIAL that the health care provider hold up a loving mirror to help the patient address lifestyle issues that may be causing or exacerbating physical symptoms. To view the body as solely a biochemical organism, separate from its environment and the factors that threaten its homeostasis is careless and ultimately ineffective. The body’s biochemistry may be important to address, but the mind and the soul and the context of how they interact with the world are just as important.

The Body Is Equipped To Heal Itself

The medical literature is full of scientific evidence that the body is equipped with natural self-repair mechanisms that can be flipped on or off with the power of our thoughts, feelings, and beliefs. As doctors, I believe it is our responsibility to dig into the lives of our patients so we can help them figure out what might be activating disease-causing stress responses in the body and what they might do to facilitate healing relaxation responses in the body.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t use pharmaceuticals or surgical interventions when appropriate. But it does mean that medicating a symptom so the patient can maintain the status quo of an unhealthy lifestyle is not the solution. Consider the patient who gets severe migraines every time her boss yells at her- which is every day. Is she better off getting Imitrex? Or should she either set boundaries with her boss or find a new job?

Should the patient who is shouldering the responsibility of caring for her abusive, aging mother take Percocet for the disabling back pain she started experiencing right after her mother moved into her house? Or should she put her mother in a nursing home?

I’m not suggesting that Imitrex and Percocet won’t help the patient in the interim, as they muster up the moxy to make lifestyle modifications that will support better health.  But I am saying that treating the symptom with drugs and surgeries without examining what stressor might underlie the symptom is simply practicing bad medicine.

Symptom Relief Vs. Symptom Prevention

As Dr. Andrew Weil says in the documentary Escape Fire, “We have a disease management system, not a health care system.” Our health care system is badly broken because we are in the business of symptom relief, not symptom prevention.

The way our system is set up, most doctors are treating patients the way doctors treat injured football players- do whatever you can to set that bone, wrap that ankle, inject that joint, and get the star player back in the game. Nobody’s really thinking about the fact that the best way to help the injured football player is to get him out of the game- for good. And look what happens to pro football players down the road. Their bodies are wrecked. Most of them are getting knee replacements by the time they’re in their fifties.

We do the same thing to patients. We medicate them so they can get back into the game of an unhealthy life that is out of alignment with their Inner Pilot Light. And the consequences of such behavior are dire. As doctors, we promise to first, do no harm. But by slapping Band-aids on symptoms rather than helping patients get at the root of why the symptoms are there in the first place, we put our patients at risk of more disease and even premature death.

In order to live optimally healthy, happy lives, patients need more than just a pill to mask a life this is out of alignment with their truth. As I teach in Mind Over Medicine, they need to write The Prescription for themselves. (Get your free Self-Healing Kit here to learn more about how to write your own Prescription.)

So what is the doctor’s job? Perhaps the most important role a doctor can play is not just to offer the Band-aid of symptom relief, but to offer love, support, positive belief, and nurturing care so the patient can muster up the courage to change any lifestyle issues that may be predisposing the body to illness.

What Do YOU Think?

Share your thoughts in the comments.

With love,

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27 Comments

  1. SHENZI

    Lissa,
    Agree with you a 1000 %.

    You have just identified the two paradigms! Such a big DUH for many of us who’ve known this for a while but very important to keep talking about and highlighting as we evolve out of the AMA model and into true health care of the WHOLE HUMAN!

    Thanks.

    Reply
    • Sue Kusch

      I was widowed 18 months ago and 3 months later, I went in for an annual check-up/pap test. My doctor casually asked how I was doing, probably expecting either a simple fine or laundry list of physical complaints. Instead I said calmly, “Well, my husband died in a horrific accident 3 months ago and I have been working on finding my way back to the world.”

      He was stunned and so uncomfortable/unprepared that he continued with his questions as if I had simply said, “I’m doing well.” He left quickly so I could change into a robe and he was flustered upon his return. He conducted the checkup without saying anything.

      Finally, after I dressed, he returned and said how sorry he was to hear about my husband. He asked me if I needed anything – not really sure what he meant – but I informed him I was working with a therapist.

      It was clear to me that he was on auto-pilot and was completely unprepared to handle the realities of life in his patients’ lives. I was disappointed in his inability to be a human being with me but not surprised. Over the past 40 years, I have NEVER had a physician inquire about my personal life, my emotions, my struggles, my successes or about my perceived level of happiness.

      Reply
      • SHENZI

        Sue,
        You have my condolences and deepest heartfelt empathy. ive lost both my parents recently amd a dear lifelong friend and I am bereft and deeply depressed.

        Doctoring became abominated by the AMA. The doctors of today are sickness managers with a focus on symptoms. They are victims of the system too. We need to transform it. I do give your doctor points for eventually coming round to acknowledging your loss.
        Wishing you much comfort love support self nurturing and healing.

        Reply
        • Sue Kusch

          Thank you Shenzi and I wish you healing. I absolutely agree with your statement that doctors are victims of a profit-based “health” care system.

          Reply
  2. Nichole

    Lisa
    I recently had a brain tumor removed, been receiving debritement cleanings of the sinuses. I have since had three bacterial infections growing in the area; I had been telling my doctors for months about all the pain that I been having. The doctor asked me in a email in this language ” What R U Doing” and saying he was perplexed that I had staph infection where his tools go to clean that area. I told him I eat well, try to exercise if I have energy and sleep if I am not up swallowing my infection . I was hurt, insulted and told him I listen to his instructions every time. I think he feels if I just get back in the game of work and all life that this would not of happened.

    Thank you for continue support of the importance of self care in this lifetime.
    Nichole

    Reply
    • ruth

      Oh Nichole, sorry for what you are going through! I applaud your good eating and exercise! I also work hard to eat well and exercise and i listen to Lissa’s wonderful meditation which helps a lot! best wishes to you!!! happy healing!:)))

      Reply
    • marta6162

      Nichole, I too am so sorry you had to go through that. It hurts my heart when I hear about the response you got.

      Reply
  3. marycschaefer

    I was surprised and gratified when I was asked during intake in one doctor’s practice if I “felt safe at home.” I did, and at the same time was glad that level of reality and sensitivity was being incorporated. Now, that same doctor (not her intake nurse…) when I told her my mother died and I was experiencing significant symptoms of menopause at the same time, she blew past it, for whatever reason. Please docs, if you are going to give the impression that you are sensitive, please be prepared to be…

    One of my physicians makes it a point to ask me how my business is doing. I can tell that she has made a concerted effort to learn to listen and take seriously that life events impact my health. I don’t know if she is going to be able to keep up with my growth i this area, but I AM glad to see evidence that some docs are connecting up the person, their environment, their experiences and their health.

    Reply
    • Dana

      Aha – they ask whether you feel safe at home because they have been educated or sensitized about DOMESTIC VIOLENCE. Why? Advocacy on the issue! You’ve seen the posters, probably too, in doc & hospital ladies rooms that address domestic violence? This is good – this could be the model for getting OTHER life-safety and well being questions into the exam room. Too bad it took 30 years for the feminist movement to achieve this victory on domestic violence but hooray that it happened!

      Reply
      • marta6162

        Thanks for the reply, Dana. Yes, I realize the original question was about domestic violence. Agreed that this could
        be the model for getting other life-safety and well being questions into
        the exam room, as you stated. I think Lissa and other professionals’ work is going to help.

        Reply
  4. Guest

    Hi Lissa,

    After reading this I was motivated to create an account and comment.

    I have recently been “diagnosed” by a doctor who saw me for 10 mins as moderately severely depressed and wrote me a Rx for an anti-depressant. I told him I did not come to see him for a Rx but for counselling and that I was choosing, for the time being anyway, to not take the Rx. He seemed miffed. Yes, miffed! 🙂 I subsequently went to see a mental health intake worker and she took my case to a board to see what could be done with me. I am on the waiting list to see a psychologist in 2 – 3 months who will help me to set goals, etc. Why is this all happening? Well, I work at a job that sucks the life out of me, like literally. I’m emotionally and mentally completely exhausted at the end of almost every day. No energy for anything else. I asked for, and received, a sick leave. I’ve been on sick leave now for 2 full weeks and I’m so grateful that I have this opportunity to go inward and figure things out. I realized a while ago that I am out of alignment with my purpose here on earth and I’m working at figuring out how to get in alignment with my soul’s purpose. It’s not easy work for sure but I’m up for it. I hope that when I get to see her, the psychologist is also up for it…

    I think a lot of us are not living out our purpose and it causes a lot of suffering, suffering that is contributed to by the major systems of our culture, the healthcare system being one of them. I’m just a microcosm of our society’s ills. In order to heal our world, I have to heal myself and I’m certainly not looking towards the conventional medical system to do that. Unfortunately.

    Reply
    • Rhana

      Dear Guest,

      You are brave to ask for more than an Rx for an anti-depressant to change your life. Taking leave from your job to figure out how to get in alignment with your purpose in this life is a choice definitely worth taking!

      Thank you for leading the way!

      http://www.QSELFCARE.com

      Reply
  5. ruth

    I have to thank you for your great meditation that I use every day! Your voice is so soothing and I feel as if I am filled with golden healing light when I listen. I am working with a heart irregularity and I have been doing much better since reading your amazing book and meditating daily. I still have to use the healing kit to look at my life. thanks for your honest heart felt work!!:)))) Ruth

    Reply
  6. Diane

    Lissa, I have worked in higher education/university environments for most of my career. I believe that many teachers, professors, and academic advisers experience the same angst that you did while practicing medicine. You enter education because you see it as a calling — an opportunity to help young people gain critical thinking skills, to broaden their perspective, and to acquire knowledge that helps them make informed decisions. But every day, I see teachers disconnecting from the lives of their students and “teaching to the test” – not because they don’t want to help the at-risk student or the burned out over-achiever, but because the current system of education, like medicine, is no longer working for the student/patient — but is designed for short-term return on investment that maintains the status quo. I applaud your efforts to challenge the system and call for more prevention and healing — I think it has broad parallels in many other fields!

    Reply
    • Terri

      This is so true. As an elementary grade teacher, I find the frustration and stress of dealing with a broken system to be overwhelming. At times I have even looked into other employment. But, as you mentioned, Diane, I see this as a calling and pray for the strength and wisdom to do what I can to do what’s in the best interest for each of my students. I’m grateful to Lissa for offering hope and guidance in a variety of ways.

      Reply
      • Diane

        Yeah for teachers! Terri — I pray with you that we can keep serving our young, take care of ourselves (mind, body, soul), and keep making a difference. Thanks for sharing!

        Reply
  7. Dana

    I couldn’t agree more. I even see psychiatrists practicing “pharmacist” medicine – they may ask about a patient’s life in a 15 “meds check” appointment, but they will still provide only a pharmacological solution. I find that especially sad given their training. The docs who have helped me the most practice integrative or functional medicine and don’t take insurance. The cost is prohibitive for most people. I am sure there are good docs out there who agree with you and WANT to practice more wholistically – but how can they in 15 mins? Until the payment/insurance system changes, I can’t imagine how more docs will practice as you so rightfully recommend. To heal health care will require that insurance companies (or the employers who pay them) see the light (or Inner Pilot Light 🙂 here, and not just doctors. What do you recommend on that front?

    Reply
  8. Shawna

    Lissa, I am most elated that you have taken the courageous steps to remember and follow your oath “to harm none….” Having lived with type 1 diabetes for 47 or out 49 years, (parents both of the medical professions) I trusted my inner pilot and rejected 98% of the rx doctors advice to “manage” my “condition.” I have reversed my own kidney disease, through my training with ThetaHealing and taken absolute responsibility for my “well being.” My body has been starting to re-produce its own insulin off and on…yeah and I am in deep gratitude. Yes, labs and an occasional rx are good….yet its me walking my talk and continuing to baffle the Drs that gives me such joy!
    Thank you for making public what I have known since a child. This supports me in continuing to educated my clients in taking back their “tools” of healing. I’ve waiting for “you” for a long time.
    With deep and genuine gratitude,
    Shawna

    Reply
  9. Rhana

    My mother is 81. According to her and a few of her friends their Stanford educated cardiologist functions as a “pill pusher and test giver”. These gals try to avoid their cardiologist and other providers as much as possible. They think it is wrong for the providers to charge their insurance companies “big bucks” for “nothing”. This is a SAD state of affairs for patient, “physician” and insurers.

    When these women were in their 20’s physicians were practical, trusted and esteemed. What changed?

    We are probably 2 generations away from significant and functional change in health and wellness education, lifestyles and outcomes. Thank you Lissa Rankin for your courage to move this effort forward!

    A diagnosis is a gift when we treat it as a wakeup call. A diagnosis of an autoimmune disorder sent me on a quest. The results: excellent health, last anti-biotic 18 years ago, and zero pharmaceuticals in the last 18 years.
    It is possible to live differently when the “status quo” becomes the “status no”!

    I treat imbalances and stresses with herbal compounds, homeopathics, and lifestyle adjustments.

    Reply
  10. Mesheril Christallene

    I am very fortunate to have a doctor who wants to know how I’m doing, what’s been going on in my life since I last saw her & takes the time to listen to me at each of our appointments. Even makes supportive suggestions at times. I have to book a double length appointment to get this, but considering how I feel afterwards it’s well worth it. The Practice she belongs to has what are considered ‘alternative’ doctors. They’re all different & some are more open-minded than others. My doctor is open-minded to a certain degree. She knows I’m a Herbalist/Natural Therapist, so is respectful of my perspective & the fact that I take herbs etc, but deep down she’s still a prescriber & follows what she’s been taught, which is not to think outside the box too far. But on the other hand, she supports what I want & need, which in my experience is totally rare & a precious thing.

    It would certainly be wonderful if all doctors were wholistic & saw the connection between mind, emotions, body & soul, but apart from most not being allowed or wanting to get off the path they were taught, I do believe it’s a time & money issue. They need to squeeze as many patients into an hour as they can to make a living. A regular appointment is 15 minutes & how much care can you put in in that length of time, when you need to find our why the patient is there & then prescribe drugs. They’re also typically enticed by the pharmaceutical companies to sell this or that drug.

    I see that the whole system is set up to keep doctors out of their patients lives, even if they wanted to get involved. And it’s more about the patient knowing what they need than it is the doctor. So if you know you need counselling, you ask for it. But then the average patient does not connect their home life with their symptoms, so it’s viscous cycle – cover up the symptoms & let nature take its course!

    Reply
  11. Traci Dryer

    I think the doctor, pharmacist, therapist are not merely defined by the job. I am a pharmacist and I help patients with compassion and concern. I empower them, and actually try to get them away from medications. As a compounding pharmacist, I believe a lot of “illnesses” can be treated by restoring bio-identical hormones to the proper levels, eating a good diet, exercising, meditating, and controlling stressors. I see more and more patients adrenally fatigued because they are putting too much stress on themselves. Anyway, my point is: I practice with more care and compassion than the doctor in the article, so to say he was practicing like a pharmacist is a little offensive to me. I see patients that literally got 2 minutes with the doctor, but I take the time to explain everything to them. (And I don’t get an office fee!) However, you can find good and bad in all 3 professions. There are some brilliant, caring physicians out there. I know, because when I found one–I made her my best friend.

    Reply
  12. melissaburchcchrshomna

    I’m so glad you wrote this blog. I had a similar experience when I worked in the psychiatric department at Beth Israel hospital in NYC and watched hours of videotapes of patients with their doctors. The whole goal was to keep the patients in the difficult circumstances (terrible jobs, abusive elationships, poverty, etc.) not to question the situation in any way. It’s really important to ask this question–Are you being helped to stay stuck or to move forward?.

    Reply
  13. Susan Gallacher-Turner

    I couldn’t agree with you more. I have seen too many of my friends medicated so they can stay in the very situations that are making them sick. They think they are seeing a doctor and the doctor is prescribing the drugs will ‘cure’ them. What I see, time and time again, is these friends feeling ‘fine’ with the drugs or physical therapy but when the prescription runs out or the therapy sessions are over, they wind up with the same problems.

    It reminds me of the old saying, “Crazy is repeating the same behaviors and expecting a different result.”

    I have a hard time keeping my mouth shut. Really. I want to shout…this is not about your stomach or bowl movements or headaches…this is about your life!
    It’s so hard to sit an watch this happen again and again.

    Ok, I do try to suggest to my friend that maybe it’s x, y or z? And when I was in a group of doctors once, I did bring up the drugging of life problems as problematic only to have the doctor defend it as ‘necessary’.

    Right now, I forward your blogs and emails to my friends with hope in my heart.

    Reply
  14. Kelly Wagner

    Lissa, I so agree with and support your stance on the role of what a doctor ought to be. Had my mom received this kind of holistic, fully-balanced support from her doctors, and had they communicated with full conviction about the importance of making the lifestyle changes she needed to make in order to heal her ‘depression’, I think there’d be a much greater chance that she’d still be with us today.

    Instead, she was conditioned to expect that the medication alone ought to ‘fix everything’ – which it totally didn’t, which led her to feeling like she was ‘un-fixable’…which among other factors, ultimately led to her suicide.

    I know that much of your work focuses on physical ailments, and how lifestyle choices affect things like heart disease, cancer, strokes, etc…but your message applies just as much to ‘ailments’ of the spirit, so I thank you for being this voice in the medical community that’s serving to create a better-balanced model of health and healing.

    You are helping to lift the stigma that goes along with mental/emotional unwellness by putting a spotlight on all the other factors that contribute to health and well-being, and your advocacy work encouraging doctors to prescribe & recognize the crucial importance of more holistic solutions – and thus create a much more effective treatment plan to help their patients – will give dear people like my mom the hope (and the positive results) that they so desperately need…and deserve.

    Thank you for having the courage to do this work Lissa. Much love & support to you 🙂

    Reply
  15. Esther Belmaati

    Dear Lisa

    You’ve hit the nail on the head. This is exactly what is wrong with health care. It is a lack of the doctors taking complete responsibility for the patient. In some or most cases it’s probably because doctors are unsure of how much they can stick their noses into other people’s business. Could I be going over what I’m actually trained to do? Is this evidence based? And so on. I think doctors are aware of the real problem but feel they can’t do more than medicate because that is traditionally what a doctor does. It is such a sad situation and in the long term harmful for the patient. It’s like sweeping dirt under the carpet. I’m glad you brought this up. I hope that medicine will be taught differently in the future to include dealing with the patients personal problems as a natural part of the solution.

    Sincerely Esther B

    Reply
  16. Geneveive

    Dear Lissa, I’m having trouble with my DISQUS account and my prior meassage apparently didn’t get through to you.

    I’m extremely happy to be in a position where I have an excellent female GP (Lisa), who sees me as a whole. Lisa is currently reading your book and enjoying it. We work in partnership together for my health needs and also writing my own prescription with her input and guidance.

    As a prior holistic clinician myself, I am delighted with your book and the current “Take Back Your Health” course. They resonate deeply within me, given my prior education and experience in the health arena.

    Keep up the good work – we need you!

    With warm regards,

    Geneveive

    Reply

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