What's Wrong with Doctors? Can it be Cured? --
Doctors, Diagnoses, and Archetype-Naming
[For some years, I've wanted to talk about what's wrong with the way doctors diagnose, but it wasn't until I juxtaposed it with "archetypes work" that I was able to put it down in print.]
If you go to a doctor with a complaint and she finds what's “wrong” with you, she will make a diagnosis and prescribe treatment and medicine. If she doesn't find anything wrong, she may make a diagnosis that most resembles your symptoms ... even if it ignores a number of them.
Let's use me as an example. For ten years I complained to doctors of repeated episodes of extreme pain in my right ear and eye. Not finding an ear infection or blockage, seeing nothing on an MRI or CatScan, and finding blood tests normal, doctors diagnosed migraines. The fact that my right side of my face swelled or that my ear drained was ignored. That I had had migraines when younger and told the doctors that this was not migraines, was nothing like them, was disregarded.
It turns out that I have several conditions that caused the pain, swelling, and drainage, but migraines was not one of them. Considering that one of these conditions is neuralgia – a damaged cranial nerve – you'd think that one of the half dozen neurologists I saw would have at least thought of it. Considering that another one of these condition is a collapsed inner ear canal combined with allergies that cause congestion and inflammation, blocking the canal periodically and causing it to burst the canal open and drain, you'd think that one of the numerous Ear-Nose-Throat (ENT) specialists I saw would have thought of that.
Doctors are trained to diagnose the most obvious condition that fits most of the symptoms. They are trained to “diagnose down” -- not up.
This makes sense. You don't want doctors creating diseases from a few symptoms, adding symptoms onto ones you have, and suggesting serious conditions you might have.
The problem with this approach, however, is that it trains doctors not to listen to or respect patients. This brings me to my second point: if doctors can't figure out what is wrong, they'd rather tell you it's nothing than that it might be something they can't find. A doctor who says “I don't find anything wrong with you,” suggesting that you are making it up or that it's “psychological,” is intentionally NOT acknowledging the truth of your symptoms.
This ignores a very important truth about all illness: those who are ill need their reality to be recognized and acknowledged.
There is a fine line here. To tell someone his problem is psychological is not that different from understanding that illness needs acknowledgment. However, to acknowledge an illness is not to dismiss it; it is to respect it.
If you say something is psychological (psycho-somatic, in your head, etc.), you dismiss a physical cause and imply the sufferer is not really ill ... but is somehow responsible for annoying others with his illness.
Respecting illness acknowledges that there is something physically wrong, even if you don't know the cause. But it doesn't play into hypochondria either, because it doesn't play the game of perpetual illness hunting. Rather, someone who respects your illness will listen even more when he can't find out what is “wrong.”
An illness is something that happens TO you. You didn't create it.
This is something few people grasp. Nowadays, everybody believes that somehow if you are ill, you must have done something to cause it. If you have cancer, you must have smoked. If you have allergies, you probably have mental health problems. If you have multiple sclerosis or Parkinson's or Lyme or Lupus, even if we have no clue what you did, you must have done something.
This belief that someone must be to blame for illness probably arose from Freud's theories about the subconscious. The blame-game tries to pass itself off as the same thing as a holistic view of the body/mind: “Your mind and your body are one; therefore, if you are ill, don't look to others for a cure: look inside yourself.”
But, while blaming the sufferer for his illness may have similar origins as doctor's disrespect for patients or for the holistic Freudian or Buddhist view of body/mind, it is different. It's more like blaming the victim for the abuse he suffered. There is an epidemic of this viewpoint.
Okay, but now, here's the catch – and here's where I'm going to seem to contradict myself. What I have learned is that when there is something a person feels is wrong with him, what is needed is a very delicate thing. He needs someone to see the wrong thing – which is indeed not the same as him – acknowledge it, name it and accept it as something belonging to him but not caused by him. This process is a psychological one and a physical one. It recognizes the wholeness of the body/mind, but it does not call the illness psychological. It recognizes the person has something wrong without blaming her for it. It respects the integrity of the person, respects the existence and presence of the illness, without having to make a “diagnosis” and without blaming anyone for anything.
This is essentially what “archetypes work” is about – the work that I have spent more than thirty years understanding and developing. Archetypes work is not just talking theory. It isn't just speculating whether a Jungian-type archetype might fit you or your condition. Archetypes work is about discovering what patterns are in play and naming them as archetypes. In other words, you don't say to the person “You are doing this!” You say “This is what the thing that is happening is.” Often, you simply say back to the sufferer what he is trying to tell you about himself. And you say it with acceptance and love.
I have found that when you are able to do this with a sufferer (the “sick” person), it has almost an instantaneous effect. The sufferer feels recognized but not accused. Many times, if the archetype-naming is exactly right, the sufferer will not even realize it has been named, will not even perceive who identified it, will not grasp that anything at all has occurred (and will not remember it later) ... because what happens is like a puzzle piece being put in place. It just fits and it feels right. And the person moves on to the next thing in his life.
Thus, if you are good at this archetype-naming, the thing you name will, the moment you name it, disappear!
Not gratifying work, to be sure, and perhaps why doctors don't want to do it. They probably wouldn't get paid if they did!
The outcome of archetype-naming, however, is healing and healthiness. Archetype-naming sometimes even works for both body and mind problems, without having to separate them.
For more information about archetypes work, see my book Archetypes for Writers: Using the Power of Your Subconscious (Michael Wiese Productions, 2007).