Caregivers and careseekers
We have many terms for those who offer treatments and those who seek them. Each has its own tradition and shapes the relationships of the caregivers and careseekers in subtle but pervasive ways.
The first term I suggest for consideration is respant, asking you to consider all the other terms in contrast with this one.
Bernie Siegel (1986; 2002), a remarkable surgeon, developed support groups for people he was treating who had cancer. He says that the most important thing he learned was to be quiet and listen, letting the group members sort out their problems within the group sharing process. He finds that people have a deep wisdom within themselves that understands their problems and knows ways to deal with them. The doctor's job is not to prescribe the solution, but rather to ask questions that will challenge people to discover their own solutions to their problems.
Siegel coined the term, "respant" - standing for responsible participant - to replace the term, patient. Respants are encouraged to ask their doctors lots of questions, so that they themselves can make informed decisions about dealing with their problems. Respants look for ways that they can improve their own conditions, including:
- Lifestyle changes - exercise, healthy foods in reasonable quantities, avoiding toxic substances
- Healthy diets - balanced for nutrition, varied for essential elements, free of toxins
- Supplements - vitamins, minerals, herbs
- Self-healing techniques - relaxation, meditation, imagery, prayer, communing with nature
- Seeking out caregivers who respect the rights of respants to decide for themselves, after appropriate consultations
- Seeking treatments that are consonant with their beliefs and wishes
- Refusing recommendations that are not clear or acceptable
Not every patient is ready to be a respant. Some prefer to accept the educated advice of an expert. This is fine, as there are plenty of experts who are happier with patients who accept their advice without question.
Doctors are perceived to have the knowledge and expertise to diagnose and treat problems. This places most of the responsibility for dealing with problems on the physician. The doctor questions the patient, seeking symptom patterns and supporting diagnostic factors in physical examination and laboratory data that fit recognized disease patterns, for which the doctor supplies a diagnostic name. Treatments are administered directly (as in surgery or physiotherapy) or prescribed (as in diets or medication). The advantage to this system is that within the conventional medical model that views most medical problems as dysfunctions of the physical body, this works reasonably well. Modern medicine is excellent in diagnosing and treating infections, physical trauma, structural abnormalities, and hormonal imbalances that fit well within this model.
The disadvantage is that the prescriptive model is often less successful with chronic problems. For instance, arthritis, chronic pains, neurological disorders, chronic fatigue syndrome and other chronic disorders may not respond to medical treatments. Doctors continue to prescribe one medicine after another, hoping to find one that will provide symptomatic relief. Patients may have adverse reactions to the medications, for which they are given further medications. They often become weary or despairing with the lack of progress.