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The Diagnosis Dilemma
Part 2: What’s in a Word?

In this age of high-speed information overload, relentless technological advances and the ever-expanding landscape of healing arts, patients often find themselves sifting through jumbles of overlapping, seemingly contradictory, and often confusing ideas for the key to their healing. With the modes of treatments ever expanding and our choices for care ever increasing, the resulting diversity and complexity within the world of “diagnosis” has become more difficult to sort through and understand.

We all travel through life collecting experience and crafting our individual and collective “worldviews”. Every practitioner of medicine, from the shaman to the surgeon, brings their own distinct worldview into the treatment room. As practitioners, we look at our patients through the “lenses” that we carry close to our hearts, and polish on the sleeves of our white coats. We spend years studying with the finest, being inspired by the best, attending workshops, observing colleagues and continuously honing our craft all for the sake of our dear patients.

In the treatment room, we sit and listen as folks speak of their experiences of their “health”. As we listen, we must sift through words that may or may not be clinically significant, but which have become an integral part of the patient before us. At some point, in a given moment a word was administered and/or adopted. The word has germinated and taken on a life of its own. Whether that word is “fibromyalgia” or “fear”, it matters not. We, as patients and practitioners, must recognize that this word is only a word, and that when words are doled out, whether arrived upon via our most mainstream, state of the art processes or through the grace of an intuitive, that they have come from a single perspective, through a particular lens, in a given moment.

This is not to diminish the potential value of a diagnosis. It can be a starting point - a calling down the pathway of inquiry, taking turns and opening doorways to our healing. The goal here is to consider the potential affects of the word, which become inherently interwoven into our healthcare experience.

This word, or diagnosis, may come as a complete surprise or have been long sought after. It may offer relief, or devastation, leading us into journeys of healing and suffering, of living and dying. For some, the diagnosis can alleviate the sometimes-longstanding fear of something unknown, uncomfortable and scary. It may be just what is needed to cast light upon, and put a label on our dis-ease. It can provide direction through which to choose an appropriate action, thus giving the sense that we have some of control over our situation. This in and of itself can offer some ease after enduring a period of deep unknowing.

Once the word is spoken and received, pathology morphs into something new. The two become one, and the extent to which disease progresses is now also a function of the weight that we allot the word – what it means to us, what we expect from it, and how we respond to it. There are those who will take this word with a grain of salt and go about their lives caring for themselves in the manner with which they feel most at home. Some folks receive a diagnosis and follow through with a course of treatment without being burdened by the word or the idea of the word, while others are crushed under its weight. I’ve witnessed a self-admittedly “happy, healthy person” catalyzed into an absolute wreck, only to find out that they had been mis-diagnosed and that they actually are – or were – fine. This classic case of the voodoo curse attests to the power of a word.

As always, body/mind/spirit are seamlessly meshed together as “us”. Mind, as equal partner in this trilogy, bridges body and spirit. It’s via mind that we perceive and begin to assimilate the words that we hear. They are inspected through our lenses, run through our filters, then applied meanings. Some meanings can feel good in our bodies. They can warm, elate or excite. Others can feel heavy and uncomfortable– especially if they’re seemingly responsible for our suffering. A weightier meaning will be denser, and its effects will take more effort to resolve than those with a lighter, cleaner, softer connotation. I have generally found that the more detached patients are from their diagnoses, the more readily they tend to heal. The weight of a word can be a tremendous burden, and if we can release even some of this, our ability to heal will become enhanced. In essence, we need be careful that the diagnosis that we have doesn’t instead, have us.

Any experience can be labeled. A label, by virtue of its definitive nature, reduces the possibility of the presence of anything other than what the label indicates. Through acupuncture treatment we experience an enhanced ability to see beyond our labels. We become witness to the changeable phenomena that we experience in our lives, and foster an increased awareness and therefore a heightened healing potential. We come to realize how to better care for ourselves. We learn what our symptoms might be reminding us to do, or not do. Our symptoms become a signal rather than a shackle. The diagnosis becomes a tool rather than a verdict. Beyond the word exists a world of possibility, as vast and varied as each and every one of us. When we examine a situation in terms of its possibility, we naturally tease apart the confines of the label. We disrupt the assumptions that we’ve constructed and embraced. We are provided more room to breathe within our space, and in turn we more fully realize the world of possibility that exists within.

July 2006

In case you missed it, here's part 1 of The Diagnosis Dilemma.

The FAQ page is a good read, as well.

Everyone loves Tui Na - Oriental Bodywork.