Emotions

Taking Control of Your Relationship with Your Healthcare Team

There are practical steps you can take today to feel more in control of this relationship with your healthcare team.

Here are the 3 P’s of improving your relationship with the individuals in your healthcare team.

Plan

Planning may feel like the last thing you want to do before a trip to the doctor, but it needn’t take long and can even be done in the waiting room or on the bus on the way to the appointment.

Think back over the last week or month – what has been confusing about your diabetes ? Or surprising? Or encouraging? What are the top three things you like to know or say? Jot these down on paper or as a note on your phone to remind you once the appointment begins.

Participate

Step number two starts when you walk into the consultation room. Early on in the appointment, let your doctor know that you’ve planned for the visit.

This enables her or him to see that you are being an active ‘participant’ in your appointment, the second ‘P’ of working with healthcare professionals In order to better participate, William Polonsky, a US writer suggests using the ‘ABC’ of effective communication:

  • Assertiveness – express yourself with confidence
  • Brevity – speak as briefly as you can, staying to the point at all times
  • Clarity – express yourself clearly, using short sentences and simple words

Partner

The third step is to understand and keep in mind that you and the healthcare professional are ‘Partners’ – equals.

Rather than feeling like a passive recipient of their medical expertise, remember that you are two adults with an immense wealth of experience. The healthcare professional has expertise of diabetes and how your biology operates, and you have immense expertise developed through your daily life with diabetes. Together, you and your doctor can share that expertise with one another to work towards the benefit of your health.

While some readers will be able to read these 3 Ps, implement the steps and begin to make changes right away, for others, it can feel harder to make a shift. This is when it’s worth thinking about what’s going on with your emotions that’s causing this difficulty. To help you with this, you might like to try this exercise:

  • Bring to mind a particular diabetes healthcare professional that you are finding it a bit of a struggle to relate to.
  • Take notice of the emotions that you are experiencing. Are they positive or negative?
  • Put a label on these feelings you are experiencing. Hopelessness? Contentment? Anger? Joy? Embarrassment? Tension? Support? Sadness? Uncertainty? Fear? Security? Shame?
  • Notice this feeling. Think about who else in your life (especially from your early life) you also have those kinds of feelings about.
  • What figure comes to mind – Your strict headteacher at school? A kindly babysitter? A family member who makes you feel guilty that you’re not a ‘good’ diabetic ? A supportive uncle?

Psychodynamic models of therapy

Associate the feelings you have about the healthcare professional with the feelings you have about someone else in your life may seem like an odd exercise, and in some ways it really is!

But psychodynamic models of therapy offer the idea that the way we relate to people in our life today, particularly ‘authority’ figures such as healthcare professionals – are modelled on these relationships with early caregivers.

So perhaps you relate to your diabetes doctor as if they are your controlling headteacher from school, who you always wanted to secretly rebel against.

Or your supportive uncle, who if you smiled sweetly for long enough would always ‘let you off the hook’ if you did something wrong. You might think this is complete nonsense and if it’s not a helpful idea for you, then don’t make use of it. But if this way of thinking does resonate with you then do make use of these reflections.

Knowing that some of the feelings that you have towards your doctor or nurse actually belong in the past and are no longer serving you in your adult relationships, can, over time, help you to relate in a more helpful way, with the ultimate goal of improving your health.

This is one of series of Psychology articles by Dr Jen Nash, a Clinical Psychologist who has been living with type 1 diabetes since childhood.

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