5 things I wish I knew when choosing a practitioner
If like me, you’ve struggled to find a practitioner who can help you,
then this is for you. I spent seven years and thousands of pounds regaining my health, so I want to share five things I wish somebody had told me:
1. Try not to get fixated on qualifications
I should start by saying that of course, qualifications are very important and we need understanding and knowledge to inform our advice.
I was an ‘academic snob’ and the background was always my first question. I remember being in awe and wonder of MDs and PhDs, watching their videos and listening to podcasts.
I saw some of the most famous academically qualified practitioners in the world. But looking back, I allowed my awe and wonder for them to distort my expectations. Looking back on my recovery, it was the least academically qualified yet most experienced that helped.
I was reminded that healthcare is a vocation and many doctors and practitioners would agree that experience is just as important as academia in clinical work.
So beyond that, try to be open to practitioners with gifts and talents rarely nurtured in conventional pathways. Are they caring? Are they able to think ‘outside the box’? Most importantly, are they able to connect with you?
2. Do you connect?
"Each patient carries his own doctor inside him"- Norman Cousins, Anatomy of an Illness
I’ve never met a health practitioner who works for everyone. I frequently refer clients and families to practitioners who I believe will have a better connection with a client and their story. In my experience, it’s certainly not always the case, but some of the best outcomes occur when you feel like you can go for a drink with that person.
When I worked in the NHS, I knew of a patient who took his surgeon boat racing to say thank you. Rapport can have a great impact.
But how can you establish a connection if you’ve never met the person?
In Malcom Gladwell’s book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, he discusses what psychologists call the adaptive unconscious that allows us to make split-second inferences from limited information. In other words, as many already know, our first instinct is often right!
I’m scared to tell you how many hundreds of pages of doctors and practitioner profiles I’ve searched through (300-400) from all fields. I developed a system (accidentally) that helped me identify if somebody could help me or not which is as follows:
When you visit their site or view a picture, pay attention to your body and notice how it feels.
- Does it feel tense or tight?
- Neutral or do you feel good?
- Maybe even a gut feeling?
If positive, then this is the practitioner you should reach out to. Funnel them down using the same technique.
3. Does this person really want to help me?
As obvious as it sounds, an important question to ask yourself is: does this person really want to help me?
We don’t always have a choice. But if you have been struggling for a long time, then we have that luxury. But how?
I found, when facing a shortlist of practitioners, I would send an email to each of them outlining my story and I would wait for their response. I was always surprised by what happened. Some respond. Some don’t. And you quickly find your answer.
4. Don't let the cost of a session put you off.
What I’m about to say may sound strange but if you have been struggling for a long time, it matters.
In my experience of seven years as a chronically ill patient, I found those who justified their fee when asked for a discount were the ones to see.
Of course, there are exceptions. In previous work, I have talked about assembling your health team and one member of my health team doesn’t’ charge for her first session.
Could it be a placebo effect? Cost certainly influences our perception of value but I don’t believe it was a placebo in my case.
All I know is the practitioner who insisted on their fee helped the most: they understood their time was a big investment, and assuming the above principles were met, they were going to do everything to help. They recognized the value they were going to add.
I certainly remember on a few occasions wishing by the end of the consultation I could give them all the money in the world for the help they gave me.
5. Keep it simple
If you follow the functional medicine world, you know we are bombarded with information about the novel, weird and wonderful therapies including Fecal microbiota transplant, Neurofeedback, Helminthic therapy, low-dose naltrexone, methylated this, liposomal that…the list goes on.
I invested vast sums of money on these things hoping to find an answer. I hope these things have worked for you, but I wish somebody told me before I committed vast sums of money, that I need to ‘strive to find the person who can tell me precisely what I need’.
My experience has taught me that the last thing a master learns is simplicity. The people who were able to help me practised elegant simplicity in their approach and recommendations, saving me time and money.
I want to leave you with this short anecdote which beautifully sums up this point.
“There was a wealthy man who had a wonderful steamship, but it was prone to breaking down. Every engineer in the land was summoned, but one by one they failed. Finally, word came of a wise old man who might be able to help.
The old man arrived carrying a large bag of tools. He inspected the large network of pipes leading to and from the engine very carefully with his hands. He reached into his bag and pulled out a small hammer and gently tapped against a pipe. Instantly, the engine lurched into life.
The shocked owner expressed disbelief, "I don’t believe it, I was about to buy a new engine, all I needed was that measly hammer!”.
The owner asked what he owed him, the bill came to ten thousand pounds. "What?!", the owner exclaimed, "You hardly did anything! Justify yourself!".
The old man began to scrawl on a piece of paper. The owner smiled. This is what it said:
For tapping with a hammer £1
For knowing where to tap £9,999
Wishing you well on your path to health.