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Health and Spirituality Department

Please remember, this column is designed to help the consumer seeking behavioral-health information, and not intended to be any form of psychotherapy or a replacement for professional, individualized services. Opinions expressed in the column are those of the columnist and do not represent the position of other SelfhelpMagazine.com staff.


I have been faced with a variety of health problems recently and have had a difference of opinion with my doctor about how to proceed. I want to feel in charge of what's being done to my body. Am I wrong for speaking up when I disagree with my doctor?


Good for you for speaking up and taking charge! The ideal relationship between doctor and patient should be one of collaboration, not mindless obedience. We do indeed go to a medical doctor for his/her expertise but if we end up dealing with a physician who is unwilling to explain and especially to listen, then it may be time to change doctors.

In my own battles with chronic asthma, I have had to learn several crucial lessons:

1. No doctor can help me if I act irresponsibly with regard to dealing with asthma;
2. If I take responsibility for my health rather than shift that responsibility onto the doctor, then overall I tend to be more healthy;
3. I have a right to ask my questions and have them answered in language I can understand.

In light of those learnings, I have tried to do the following:

1. learn as much as I can about my condition;
2. go to my doctor's appointments with questions prepared and written down;
3. ask for copies of test results such as pulmonary functions tests.

It is not just the doctors who are at fault with the imbalance of power in health care. We consumers have tended to shift responsibility onto the doctors and have shirked our part of it. If we approach a doctor as a person with expertise who does not have all the answers and who is a human being subject to fatigue and "bad hair days" just like us, then the possibility of collaboration increases. If we communicate with that doctor assertively but not aggressively, that also helps immensely. If we still end up dealing with a person who expects us to follow his/her dictates without question, then it's time to find another doctor.

You might find some encouragement with the works of Bernie Siegel. Maureen Potts' The Three-edged Sword is also an excellent first-hand account of one woman's journey to personal responsibility.


Richard B. Patterson is a clinical psychologist in private practice in El Paso, TX. He is the author of three books on psychology and spirituality.


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