Sunday, 31 July 2016

Being positive

For most people, sharing their suffering is just the first step on the way out of the dark woods in which they find themselves.  Let’s now consider the relevance of being positive.

Expressing hope and optimism, and taking a positive approach to a problem, are usually more helpful than expressing doubt and uncertainty.

But we need to be a bit careful how we do this.  

If we are too cheerful too soon, before the other person has had time to tell their story, they may think we just don’t care or understand.  Here’s how Sinéad O’Connor puts it:

I went to the doctor and guess what he told me He said, "Girl, you better try to have fun no matter what you do.  But he's a fool.

 So, don’t rush in too quickly with your hopeful words.

Then we need to think what sort of positive approach is best to take.

I can think of at least four different ways. I may tell Sinéad that I’m an expert and can solve the problem for them; or that we can work on the problem together; or that she has the resources to manage it herself; or that her problem will get easier on its own, given time.  

These approaches all convey hope and optimism, but they are all very different.  We need to tailor them to the understanding of the person we are hoping to help.
For example, an expert approach might be more helpful if Sinéad believed she was suffering from a disease or an illness; but as she sees herself having problems with her relationships, a shared or time-focused approach is more likely to be helpful for her.

So it’s worth finding out how the person we’re hoping to help see things.

In any event, shaping the patient’s story in a more hopeful direction is likely to be valuable.

Talking with Darren, I aim to build on his strengths: his obvious intelligence and his drumming skills. 

And we can see hopeful shaping in this consultation between a doctor and a patient with muscular dystrophy:
P:    It's just quite painful and tiring and depressing.
D:   Yes, yes.
P:    and I've been really cold since I came back, just can't seem   to get warm so it's just very diff-, very depressing. Sorry.
D:   It's not easy to put up with, this, is it? You're obviously somebody, you like to keep very active and getting around the place and doing what you want to do.
P:    I just don't want it to be on top of me, and it feels like it's on top of me.
D: We've got to reverse that, haven't we? We can't get rid of the dystrophy, but you can be on top of it rather than the other way, rather than the other way round somehow.

This is a beautiful example of sensitive, person-centred optimism, which we can all learn from.

Next time – some practical steps to encourage hopefulness.

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