The Healing Power of Being Met

"Listen. People start to heal the moment they feel heard” -Cheryl Richardson


My muscles have been tight and hurting recently. I have been feeling like I need a massage therapist who can give me deep pressure, and I've had a hard time finding one in my new location that I felt could be "aggressive" enough to be effective in relieving my pain.

A few months ago, I found a salon who rated their massage therapists on a point scale, 1 being light pressure. 4 being the therapist who uses the most pressure. I signed up for a "4" therapist and that massage was not what I needed, either. The massage therapist was able to provide enough pressure, but it was all wrong. He had his routine, and he didn’t listen to my body at all. He was there to put in his time and go home. This was what he did, and it was obvious.

As I contemplated this I was on the massage table, once again, but with my new therapist. I told him that I like to think I identify as someone who really likes deep tissue massage but I’m not certain that it’s true. I told him that perhaps I’m like the person who says they really like spicy food but when presented with a "spicy" dish it's simply too much for them to handle.

Sometimes we take up identities that don't really reflect us as a way to try to feel understood or as an attempt to get our needs or desires met.

What my massage therapist said to me in response rang true. He said, “What I think I hear you saying is that you want someone to actually meet your muscles”. Yes! That’s right. I want someone to meet me where I am. Perhaps it's not so much being aggressive and forcing my muscles into submission but rather what I need is someone to pay attention to what they are saying.

I want someone to understand, to take time to notice, to care about what I need. Isn't that what we all want, after all?

I get a lot of emails and comments from people who feel like their health care providers are dismissing them. They feel unseen and unheard, which makes them feel desperate to get help and sometimes they become hopeless. They need and deserve to be seen, to feel understood, and have their concerns be taken seriously.

What I’ve learned in the short time I’ve been a nurse practitioner, is that the most effective way to gain trust, be effective and the biggest opportunity I have to help someone is when I choose to listen. Not to listen to chart, to diagnose, or to come up with my next sentence, but to sit back from my charting, to look someone in the eyes, and to actually listen to hear what they are telling me.

There is an instant softening in the energy of most patients when I do this. There is a natural relaxing. For someone who has been having troubling symptoms and has seen multiple providers and can’t seem to find the right diagnosis – sometimes what they need most is to know that someone cares and is willing to hear them out instead of hurry them out.

In the age of "productivity is king", it can be difficult as health care providers to make enough time to truly do this in an effective way for every patient at every visit. The true reality of many patients waiting for you, of charting and paperwork to do, of the structural pressure to quickly come up with a diagnosis, treat and move on, is real and unfortunate. These pressures are a symptom of a broken system. One I hope we will move towards changing. I like to think we will get there.

However, the best clinicians I know are able to put these pressures aside, and to fully engage with patients, if even for a few moments. Truly, sometimes it can happen in a moment.

I’ve seen time and time again, that when patients feel heard, seen and are given time to speak, not just to answer a rapid fire set of questions aimed at getting the clinician the information they need to move forward with an agenda, their experience changes.

When I am seeing a patient, I can be uncertain about their diagnosis, or struggling to really put the pieces together, but when I sit down, turn my face, heart and energy towards them, and truly see them, something shifts.

It doesn’t make their symptoms go away. It doesn’t change the fact that I don’t know what the problem actually is and need to continue to do my best to help them.  What changes, however, is that I’m curious instead of determined. I’m present instead of rushed, I’m engaged instead of dis-engaged, I’m openly caring instead of subtly annoyed.

That co-created space is the sweet spot of medicine --- and the sweet spot of human relationships. 

We all want to be seen. We want to be met. We want to be welcomed in a space where all of our parts, all of our selves, all of our feelings and experiences are met with acceptance and open curiosity with an intent to hear and see.

The science of medicine is ever evolving. As long we are practicing we will be learning science. This is important. But what will make us effective clinicians, is if we keep choosing those moments of meeting our patients. Time and time again.

The space where we feel heard and seen is the space where healing begins. I invite my fellow health care providers to take a moment each day to soften into the curiosity and intention to meet people where they are. 

 When Someone Deeply Listens To You:
 When someone deeply listens to you
it is like holding out a dented cup
you've had since childhood
and watching it fill up with
cold, fresh water.
When it balances on top of the brim,
you are understood.
When it overflows and touches your skin,
you are loved.
 When someone deeply listens to you
the room where you stay
starts a new life
and the place where you wrote
your first poem
begins to glow in your mind's eye.
It is as if gold has been discovered!
 When someone deeply listens to you
your bare feet are on the earth
and a beloved land that seemed distant
is now at home within you.
--John Fox 

My wish for you all is that you feel seen. That you feel met. My goal as a health care provider, as a human, is to continue to strive to meet you, exactly where you are.