Can We Take the Shame Out of Healthcare?

I’ve been in a bit of a theme recently with the worry posts, and I promise I’ll get back to that. Today’s post is completely off that track. It’s a reaction to things that I am hearing from my own clients and things that I am hearing from patient advocates online. I am hearing a lot about experiences of people feeling shamed and silenced in their healthcare experiences. This feels like a huge problem to me.

Some of our health is about our decisions. We can choose to eat healthy food, exercise regularly, participate in preventive care, manage our own diagnoses if we have them.

But not all of our health is about our decisions.

How many stories have you heard about folks who ate right, exercised, practiced prevention–and got cancer anyway? Or got rheumatoid arthritis anyway? Or experienced sudden coronary artery disease (SCAD) anyway? Because I’ve heard a lot of those stories.

The truth is, we still don’t understand all that much about how our bodies work. Yes, we understand so much more than we did fifty years ago. Or twenty years ago. Or ten years ago. But really, we are just scratching the surface of understanding what is going on in these complex systems we inhabit. We don’t know how much of health is genetic, or environmental, or decision based–not really.

We live in a culture that likes to have answers. We’re surrounded by promises that if we just use this product, or take that fitness class, we will be healthy and happy (oh, and probably thin, because we’re told that’s the only way to be healthy or happy).

Not only do we like answers, we like to have a sense of control. It is really frightening to think that you can make healthy choices, and still face serious illness. That’s not a reality that most people are comfortable with. It’s a little easier to blame serious health challenges on personal decisions. Truly, I’ve worked with folks who were told that their Type I diabetes (diagnosed before age six) was due to their dietary choices.

But not all of our health is about our decisions.

So, for a change this week, can we explore the idea that maybe health is more complicated than a single dimension? And can we look at the possibility that it is nearly impossible to shame someone into making good choices?

Can we offer compassion, connection and the kind of communication that really works toward change? Because that’s what I want in health care! How about you?


One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Warm Southern Breeze on May 21, 2014 at 7:04 am

    I would have never imagined that sitting in judgment was ever an aspect of care. And yet, it does occur, as you’ve mentioned. How frequently it does is something about which I have no idea.


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