Traditionally physicians, trained as technicians, view patients through a narrow reductionist lens that often excludes compassion, empathy, and authentic connection – resulting in a “dehumanizing process.” If medical science gets elevated as dogma and realized as truth, then physicians practice machine medicine, closing their minds to other possibilities. Based on this limited perspective from their training, physicians are not inclined to seek developmental opportunities when it comes to personal and leadership growth. Consequently, they find themselves in a bind – not knowing what they do not know.
The research indicates physician burnout has reached epidemic numbers, leaving physicians disillusioned and struggling to navigate healthcare environments that are complex and devoid of vitality and meaning. Physician healing and renewal are paramount issues. When physicians lose a vital connection to their body, heart and soul, it is a loss for patients as well, as patient satisfaction is closely tied to physician well being.
If ever a path was needed, the time is now! Ralph Waldo Emerson once said: “Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be.” In this case, a must read for physicians is Re-humanizing Medicine by David Kopacz, M.D., who shines a ray of light on a positive path forward.
Dr. Kopacz cautions, the path will not be an easy one and can often feel counter-intuitive. He goes on to state, “if you truly want to re-humanize medicine, you cannot make decisions based on fear of change and avoidance of discomfort.”
Physicians are trained and accustomed to pushing their emotions underground while pushing through the work. Over time numbness and emotional disconnection occurs, leaving healers cut off from their humanity. Worse, this process evolves slowly over the course of medical school and training, often leaving physician’s unconscious regarding the hardening of their hearts. Dr. Kopacz’s central theme is one of inclusivity. He makes a strong evidence based case for change and healing through practicing holistic medicine – a paradigm large enough to incorporate the physician’s vitality, science, and humanity.
The biomedical and economic models are the predominant frameworks that guide physician’s treatments. These models support financial, cognitive and technical processes that focus on parts often to the exclusion of wholes. Thus, making it congruent for physicians to compartmentalize their capacity for wholeness. Critical aspects for re-humanization involve physicians exploring their inner self and expanding their capacity to recognize earlier conditioning. Conditioning or programming creates automatic and fixed reactions, which often limit opportunities to look at situations through fresh eyes. Dr. Kopacz suggests this can promote over-confidence and over-reliance on using familiar assumptions and drawing quick conclusions.
An inner personal journey evolves consciousness and enhances self-mastery. Achieving awareness at this level moves physicians beyond the expert stage and into a higher level of wisdom, where perspective expands and identity is inclusive of being both a technician and human being. Shifting emphasis from an outer striving for achievement and perfectionism to an inner journey embracing wholeness broadens ones perspective. From this point of view, physicians can hold multiple perspectives and positively influence and transform their practices and larger systems.
Too often, change initiatives support one component of a variety of options, leaving people determined to defend their personal position, and adding to the fragmentation and overwhelm in healthcare environments. Parker Palmer has stated: “The capacity to hold tensions creatively is the key to much that matters.”
Dr. Kopacz would agree; he offers a refreshing viewpoint, stressing the need for a holistic paradigm. From within a holistic framework parts are recognized and valued. Dr. Kopacz’s book builds awareness, knowledge, offering insights and tools based on authentic change. These are integrative strategies, and timely, due to the fragmentation, that is a by-product from an over-emphasis on parts, in our technologically advanced, fast moving, and modern world.
Holding tensions and using a Both/And perspective is also congruent with polarity thinking. Barry Johnson, Ph.D. created a model to manage complexity and conflict using a polarity lens. Dr. Johnson indicates using problem-solving strategies that search for right and wrong answers (either/or thinking) can be successful when you have a problem to solve. However, this type of framework is not at all useful when you need to leverage a polarity. He goes on to say; polarities are altogether different in nature. Polarities are two opposing and related qualities, where both conflicting points of view are true. Because they are interdependent, they need each other, and neither is sufficient alone. For example, the qualities inherent in the biomedical model and holistic frameworks are both necessary, and over-focusing on one, to the exclusion of the other; leaves physicians and patients without access to vital healing potential.
Re-humanizing Medicine by David Kopacz, M.D., is an astonishingly comprehensive, rich and inspiring book. The author makes an excellent case for practicing holistic-oriented medicine with physicians in the role of authentic change agents. Dr. Kopacz is very clear in his message to physicians saying they need to heal themselves first by attending to their hearts and spirits. Fortunately, for physicians this book is written from the perspective of a seasoned and wise guide who is familiar with the journey. Dr. Kopacz can provide critical insights related to challenges and barriers into the unfolding and often paradoxical process of deep change. Thus, offering his colleagues and others a much-needed transformational map into 21st century medicine.
Sandra Carter is a Professional Certified Coach (PCC) and certified as a Physician Development Coach. With a background in coaching, psychotherapy, business, healthcare and leadership, she assists leaders to grow and integrate learning in new and changing environments.