4 ways physicians can help people in recovery
Wednesday, April 19, 2017
Through the Hippocratic Oath, doctors vow to uphold best care practices for their patients. And it is through these practices that doctors help their patients manage health and well-being.
It is also through these efforts that physicians can play various roles in a recovering addict's sobriety journey. They can function as a recovery coach, psychiatrist, psychologist or even just a primary care physician who aims to prescribe a wellness regimen that won't conflict with the patient's path toward sobriety.
We learned in discussions with people in recovery that there are several especially helpful ways that physicians support patients who are fighting their way to a clean and healthy life. The following four techniques were the most common and the most noticed by many of the recovery survivors we spoke with.
1. Actively listen
The best and most immediate way for a doctor to determine how to help is through listening. Hearing what the patient is going through or has endured can give a physician a better understanding of what approaches to use in coaching the patient toward better and continued health.
It may sound cliche, but to someone in recovery, a caring, listening ear feels like a lifesaver.
"One thing that really stood out to me at the Treehouse was the recovery coaches," explained John, a recovery survivor and recent graduate from the Treehouse in Texas. "There was always someone available to talk to, vent to, cry to — and they truly cared. It was so helpful to spew my problems and feel like I was being heard."
2. Inspire patients to seek help
When a people are ill, have a broken bone or need any sort of treatment, they naturally seek medical attention. The same idea should hold true for patients recovering from addiction.
The disease of addiction tricks many people into thinking that no one could possibly understand what they're going through, and they have to face their demons alone. We learned that one of the most precious gifts a doctor can give to people in recovery is to teach them that they don't have to go the road alone — and really, they shouldn't.
"Changing my mindset really keeps me going," said Ryan, another recent graduate of addiction treatment. "The skills I learned [in treatment] and the meetings that I continue to attend keep me positive and keep me focused. It’s really the little things that you can do each day that make you better.
"Don't be afraid to ask for help. As addicts, we have a false sense of pride. Ask for help, take suggestions. People truly want to help. Anything is possible."
3. Don't accept excuses
Most doctors would agree that there is a difference between compassionate and enabling behavior, and this can be an especially fine line when it comes to working with someone who suffers with an addiction.
For patients, however, tough love is better medicine than allowing them to make excuses. By holding patients accountable for following a health plan, it ensures the patient stays on the path towards overall healing.
"One of the hardest things for me to work on was my ego. Addiction can stem around ego," John said. "It was so nice at the Treehouse because they wouldn't let me get away with lying to myself or feeding my ego. I have excuses, valid reasons to live in addiction — but the Treehouse didn't accept excuses. Instead, they encouraged and supported me to look deeper into the issues."
4. Check up on patients
Physicians working with addicted patients know they can't simply fill out a prescription, send them on their way and hope for the best. It's important to check in with patients to make sure that not only is their physical health on the right track, but also their mental health.
And from what we learned, these check-ins are not upsetting or seen as disruptive to patients. In fact, they're appreciated.
"I still keep in contact with my therapist, and Renne, the lady who gives out the medication," Ryle, another substance abuse survivor, said. "They still check up on me. And that has made it easier to stay on track since I've been home. Once you get back into the real world, it hits you in the face. And so those skills that I learned and the connections that I made help me to stay focused."
No matter what role a physician plays in someone's recovery, there are countless ways to show support and assist patients as they stay on the path to sobriety. And when in doubt about how to help, sometimes simply asking is the key.
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