The opposite is also true – physician coaching allows the greater truth to emerge

Someone recently told me about a bumper sticker that read, THE OPPOSITE IS ALSO TRUE. I love how that simple concept can open up whole new perspectives in our thinking. We are frequently so confident that our ideas are right – and the only way of thinking about something. But what IF the opposite were also true?

In dealing with patients, the results might offer us a window into their thinking, and therefore an opportunity to communicate more effectively. For example, we KNOW that our patients should take their medications, wear their compression stockings, exercise regularly. But if THE OPPOSITE IS ALSO TRUE, why shouldn’t they do those things?

Maybe the medications have unpleasant side effects, cost too much, are a nuisance to take or make our patient feel unhealthy because they associate taking medications with sick people. If any of these are true, our patient should NOT take their medications, from their point of view. But when patients don’t conform to our treatment plan we frequently become frustrated and angry, labeling them “non-compliant.” Sometimes, we give up on them because we decide that they must not care about their health.

In her excellent book, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, Anne Fadiman tells the story of a Hmong family whose infant daughter had a seizure disorder. Because they believed that the etiology of her condition was spiritual, the parents did not give their daughter her medication and her seizures raged out of control. The physicians considered the parents neglectful and treated them poorly. After the child suffered brain damage and her seizures stopped, the family continued to care for her in their same loving way but now the physicians saw the parents as saintly. Clearly, each side had a different view of the situation. Could these physicians have provided more effective care if they had just seen that, while they believed the child would benefit from anti-convulsant medications, the parents believed that the opposite was true?

When dealing with friends, relatives, or colleagues who hold a different opinion, encouraging ourselves to consider how THE OPPOSITE IS ALSO TRUE can help us see a different perspective, allowing us to expand our vision of the world. Holding on to our judgment that the other person is wrong deprives us of meaningful discussion and learning and prevents us from a having a true relationship with that individual.

And in considering our own ideas, asking ourselves how the opposite stance might also be true gives us an opportunity to get closer to the truth of any matter, rather than remaining walled off in our own, usually self-serving, thoughts.

So, try it for a while. Whenever you have a thought that you are absolutely sure is correct, ask yourself in what ways the opposite is also true. You just might be surprised at what insights you gain, how different the world and other people in it begin to seem, and how much less stressed you feel.

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About Helane Fronek

Over the past 28 years I have had a fascinating and fulfilling career in medicine, initially practicing as a general internist and then as a procedural specialist, caring for patients with vein disorders. As Assistant Clinical Professor of Medicine at UC- San Diego School of Medicine, I’m thrilled to be teaching medical students crucial communication skills along with many other aspects involved in the practice of medicine.
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