As a patient, you might or might not expect a visit to your doctor to be a “healing encounter.” That may sound like a pretty intense event. The healing encounter is about facilitating the creation of health that transcends the physical and results in less suffering and an overall improved quality of life.

I propose that every contact with any kind of health care provider ideally should offer healing, hope, and a positive way forward to each of us.

This is not always easy in today’s “speed dating” type of 15-minute office or hospital visits. These encounters often feel hurried and without adequate time for dialogue, questions, and empathic human connection.

Recently, our students in the Physician Healer Track were given assignments related to “Healing Presence.” They were taught about how to bring into the patient’s room attentive mindfulness, listening skills, spiritual and emotional awareness, empathy and compassion. These are above and beyond the expected ability to competently assess patients’ physical complaints.

Some practical ways to think about what we might optimally expect from a visit with our physician or other health care provider are found in Dr. David Rakel’s Integrative Medicine textbook in a chapter called “The Healing Encounter.”
Some salient quotes:

“To find health should be the object of the doctor. Anyone can find disease.” T. Still, MD

Franz Kafka: “To write prescriptions is easy, but to come to an understanding of people is hard.”

Michael Balint: “What kind of doctor do I need to be for this patient today?”

Dr. Rakel introduces us to the concept of salutogenesis. Much of medicine and medical training is focused on pathogenesis, the cause and treatment of disease. Salutogenesis, on the other hand, is the opposite. Salutogenesis emphasizes the creation of health and what contributes to our well-being. Importantly, when we walk away from a healing encounter, do we know enough, are we motivated enough to actually improve our health and wellness?

This requires traits in the healer that are not always emphasized in medical training and certainly not measurable by the usual standardized board and other national exams:

• Mindfulness

• Self-reflection

• Empathy

• Insight and Intuition

These skills and attitudes on the part of both the physician healer and patient set the stage for effective action to improve understanding, communication, and behavioral change. Healing is not something easily reproduced or taught. Often, the best we as healers can do is to create an environment where it can unfold, grow, and teach us.

This requires presence, listening, awareness, and compassion. It also requests that as patients, we are committed to the communication process and willing to make desired changes in our behaviors to improve health. Our wellness is not all the doctor’s responsibility.

We must each be partners in an ongoing process of co-creating our healing environment outside of the medical office or hospital. This involves mustering all of our social, emotional, spiritual, and physical support systems. The healing environment begins and ends with us. Let the healing begin.

Dr. Victor S. Sierpina is the WD and Laura Nell Nicholson Family Professor of Integrative Medicine and Professor of Family Medicine at UTMB.