I’ve had a few challenging conversations recently with people in the medical profession, scientists etc, trying to convey the value of what I do, especially around the more esoteric elements. I used language they didn’t understand, and it took more work than it should have to create an open discussion. And I do know better! I simply forgot I wasn’t speaking to someone in my own industry and used words that had different meaning for them. It’s all too easy to do. So I wrote this article to remind myself what I need to pay attention to, and maybe help others along the way. (This is primarily about physical health related treatments, but can be applied across a much wider range.)
Often the language used to describe a treatment or learning process can cause people to distrust what a really worthwhile treatment approach, whether it’s complementary, spiritual or medical. Practitioners from opposite camps can become entrenched in the ‘my way is the only way’ school of thought, when it could be better to collaborate, learn from each other and support a more truly holistic approach to achieving health and wellness for ourselves and our clients. Different belief systems colour the experiences of both parties, and can prevent understanding, so it’s crucial to look for common ground that both sides can recognise and accept as a starting point.
All genuine health practitioners just want their clients to be healthy! Telling someone they should ignore medical treatment and use only complementary therapies – or vice versa! – closes down communication between health providers and reduces options for clients. How do we test whether to use one OR the other SAFELY? What if doing both made more of a difference? Or in a certain order? What if doing neither actually worked by allowing the system to heal without interference? Wouldn’t it be great if we could have more conversations that brought collaboration on healing protocols and priorities? It’s not always easy, but it’s important to consider how we can do this and create better relationships across the industry.
When providing proof of the effectiveness of what we do, a large part of the problem seems to be that we use the same treatment on lots of different things at the same time, or apply lots of different treatments to the same thing, so it can be quite tricky to pin down exactly what worked. That is NOT a useful basis for clinical trials! Often the best we can do is keep rigorous notes and do case studies on particular protocols. Other times we are just grateful our clients feel better and feel confident it’s something we did. And sometimes we’re actually wrong about what’s happening, and need to find another way of thinking about it so we can be more useful to our clients.
I’m going to be blunt. Pseudo-science has no place in our industry. It’s important to understand the difference between the underlying cause, a trigger for a reaction, and recognising that something might have a correlation between what you do and what happens and sometimes it is just random. If you want to be taken seriously, look for both the evidence AND what contradicts it! (Of coures, some things are purely experiential, and although we may explore the brain/mind/spirit connection, science isn’t always the most important thing!)
When speaking to mainstream health-care providers, clients, students – well, everyone really – it’s important to respect their viewpoint and positive intentions, even if you disagree with their approach. (After all, that’s what you’d like from them, isn’t it?!) It’s also important to recognise that neither party knows everything! I recommend you keep an open mind, and allow the possibility that you might need to learn more on a subject, or even, in some way, actually be wrong. (I know, ouch!)
All industries have standard phrases that have consistent meaning within that profession, and using terms out of context to describe our own experience (essentially treating it as a metaphor) can, quite unintentionally cause a major communication rift.
It’s rarely helpful to assume people have the same beliefs or values as you, even among your colleagues, as everyone has a different life experience and training leading to a wide variation in knowledge and beliefs. This is crucial for people with a different approach therapeutic approach to you. For the sake of clarity, avoid using jargon that is industry specific, or worse, vague, non-specific (alright, ‘fluffy’) language with people, because your listener might have their own, very different meaning for what you say. Unless you really understand any scientific principles that are relevant, and are good at explaining them, it’s not easy to convey them well and you may wind up looking a bit silly, or worse, untrustworthy. If that happens, refer to a reputable source of information so your audience can check it for themselves.
Some practical ways to communicate with clients and other professionals effectively, clearly and ethically: Whoever you’re speaking to, if you’re teaching, working with a client, or having a discussion with someone who doesn’t share your beliefs and meanings for key terms, check if what your saying is actually about belief rather than empirical evidence, and whether your opinion is the only possible one. You might like to consider using your own version of the following ways to convey information, which will help you stay ethical and encourage useful communication:
- Don’t use jargon. (You know it drives people nuts when an IT professional or a car mechanic does it, your industry specific language can have the same effect!)
- If there is clinical, scientific evidence for your technique, be clear how it directly applies to the technique/situation (if your scientific explanation isn’t good, be prepared either to learn it, or just send them to the source!)
- “This has been my personal experience and is one that has been reported by many people, consistently described using terms such as….”.
- “I admit I don’t know how it works, but I have repeatedly seen that doing xyz produces an abc result. I’m a pragmatist – I’ll use it while it works! If it turns out something else is happening to trigger the result, then I’m open to changing my beliefs, what I do, or how I describe the process.”
- “XYZ is a healing metaphor that works for many people and makes it easy for them to employ healthful practices/relax and allow their body to get on with healing …..”
- “ABC is a belief/practice that results in (insert consistent result here)”
- Use case studies if there aren’t clinical trials. It’s really helpful to be evidence based – being honestly able to say “I’ve seen consistent results (name them) for over x% of my clients” has relevance to clients and medical practitioners alike. Know your numbers. Go back through your records. Testimonials are useful, make sure they represent the majority of your clients’ experiences.
- Translate. eg: “You might not be comfortable with the concept of ‘spirituality’ (or other term) but perhaps you might understand it as……”
- Use logic and safe experiment. “This process works in these contexts, the underlying principle seems to be xyz, what happens when I apply that to a different context?” Test, record, review!
- “ABC is not just a placebo – although placebo responses to harmless substances/protocols are wonderful since they trigger a consistent natural healing response without side effects” (then explain in what way ABC has better than placebo response results. )
- “I’ve had a lot of experiences I can’t otherwise explain, and I accept that you may not accept my interpretation of events. My sense is that….”.
- “At a purely personal level, I believe I have seen/felt/achieved …….”
- “This is my version. When you’ve experienced it, you’ll have yours.”
- Create a metaphor based on their language and experience “It’s a bit like when you… ”
- Ask questions regularly to find out if you have been understood.
These concepts are part of the Heart Centred Healer Programme created by Healerzone founder Jen Tiller. For more information, please email her firstname.lastname@example.org or phone on
+44 (0)1462 624 169 which is a UK number.