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Being Curious and Keeping an Open Mind in Healthcare: Why it Matters

Waves that are warm and gentle to evoke curiosity among healthcare providers in their work

Inviting Open Dialogue

Healthcare providers have a crucial opportunity to rebuild trust and bridge longstanding gaps in the doctor-patient relationship, addressing a history in Western medicine marked by discrimination and patient invalidation, reflective of past societal norms.

Rather than risk the judgment by their healthcare provider for asking questions about treatment options beyond standard medications and traditional talk therapies, patients may decide to keep their questions or other healing approaches they are utilizing to themselves. It may not feel safe for them to share their questions or concerns. There is an opportunity for healthcare professionals to create an environment of support and non-judgment - which requires the healthcare provider to practice curiosity and keeping an open mind.

Beyond Western Medicine

Healing in medicine simply extends beyond Western medicine and the tools we have to offer from our conventional medical training. Healing in psychiatry extends beyond the DSM 5 diagnostic criteria. Intuition and spirituality play powerful roles. Ancient forms of medicine such as Ayurveda and Chinese medicine have real-world clinical effectiveness which can easily get discounted by Western medicine because there may not be double blinded randomized placebo-controlled trials. On the other hand, many prescribing practices in psychiatry do not have high quality studies to support their use either. Pharmaceuticals are more familiar with and fit into the culture of medicine so its not uncommon for off-label and prescribing of medications with minimal or no evidence to get a pass while small positive open labeled studies involving other modalities of healing such as bacopa for ADHD symptoms or acupuncture for anxiety get easily dismissed. There is a dissonance here and it's important we name that.

True Informed Consent

Our role as healthcare professionals is to provide true informed consent to our patients which means being aware of the possible risks and benefits of treatments, as well as alternatives to standard treatments. This might include a conversation about the pros and cons of supplements, psychedelic therapies, neuromodulation, or the risk of not doing any treatment.

For example, if a patient is aware of the risks and benefits of taking the SSRI fluoxetine for moderate depression and they decide they don't want to take any medications because they are aware of the risks and prefer non-medication options and maybe intuitively to them it doesn't feel right, we can and need to respect their decision.

We can discuss alternative options - including risks and benefits - that may be effective such as bright light therapy, psychotherapy, exercise, SAMe, optimizing Vitamin D status,

omega 3 fatty acids, and/or ketamine assisted therapy. There are limitations with standard medication options for mental health and people simply want to know what other options exist - and they want to be able to have these conversations with their healthcare provider rather than a google search or through social media. We have to create the opportunity for these conversations to happen.

How to Practice Being Curious as a Healthcare Provider

  • Develop self-awareness of your blindspots and when your defenses start coming in. Where does this come from? Is this an old script? What do you notice in your body? I often recommend the book, Radical Healership by therapist Laura Northrup who provides practical guidance for diving into these layers of self for those who work in the healing space.

  • Seek out other healing modalities for yourself. Curious about abdominal massage or acupuncture or herbal medicine? Find a practitioner in your area and practice curiosity for yourself as you learn about and experience other ways of healing beyond Western medicine.

  • Notice what professional circles you are part of. For example, professional private facebook groups can provide much appreciate connection. However, groupthink is incredibly common and can seep into even your unconscious thoughts.

  • Question the things that are done how they have always been done in healthcare and medicine. Start questioning it from a place of curiosity rather than judgment. This can be done critically and compassionately. Start asking the questions.

  • Spend time out in nature and practice curiosity by observing what you see. Stick with the same path or same route and notice the big and small changes that occur with season changes. That scraggly tree you pass by? Challenge yourself to go right up to it and notice it in a different way. What are the colors or smaller details? What can you be curious about?


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