Empathy is a buzzword in the medical and health fields these days. And for good reason! Empathy allows you to connect with your patients in a way that diagnoses and lab results miss. Empathy creates rapport, connection, and ultimately gives you the tools to improve client compliance and business success.
But empathy can have a dark side.
Connecting too deeply with your patients’ struggles can cause three serious problems in your practice:
1. You feel your client’s pain so much that you give away your services to be able to help them.
2. You’re only able to see a couple of clients a day because you’re overwhelmed with compassion and anguish after most clinical sessions
3. (Worst scenario) BOTH!
(And that’s no way to build a business doing the work you are meant to do or taking your place in the movement to change the way we do healthcare.)
If this sounds familiar, then you’re in the right place. We’re going to explore the top misunderstandings that turn empathy into a liability, and the steps to transform it into the powerful asset it can be.
When we say things like, “I feel your pain,” we often think we’re being empathic and compassionate. We’re connecting to the person in pain, showing them we care.
But as we explored above, connecting TOO deeply to another’s pain can cause us to lose our ability to help them. We become crippled with the overwhelm of the emotion and either fall prey to the flood of compassion that becomes hard to shake at the end of the day OR cut the cords of kinship in order to breathe more
When I talk about empathy in practice, I’m talking about building a bridge — a bridge that extends between you and your client.
Empathy is about insight, appreciation and rapport for the individual.
Empathy is not “I feel your pain”.
Instead it’s “I see your pain”.
In other words, go ahead and stay on your side of the bridge for now. You are meant to build the bridge, not BE the bridge.
The difference may be subtle, but the implications are huge. When you stay on your side of the bridge, you offer hope. When you become the bridge, letting yourself feel their pain and getting dragged down by their struggles, you commiserate but do not cure.
If you’re like most health and nutrition practitioners I know (myself included!), you’re on a constant quest to gain more clinical expertise by attending trainings, conferences and summits, reading blog posts by leaders in the field, and amassing a library of physiological facts and figures.
I get it. We’re all keen on geeking out on those clinical pearls.
But I’m concerned that the quest is getting in the way of your success.
What most of my colleagues and students have expressed to me over the past five years, in which I’ve brought my own clinical success to the virtual classroom teaching thousands of practitioners around the globe in the science and art of functional nutrition, is that what brought them to the field of health is the desire to help people.
Somewhere along the way, you may have gotten helping people confused with knowing more.
And you may have misunderstood that the road to knowing more actually comes from practicing, not collecting data.
I’ve seen too many clinicians focused more on the puzzle than the person.
This isn’t helping us change the current state of healthcare, where more and more patients are experiencing dead ends due to chronic illnesses. It’s not enabling us to truly help people. As we know, the medical system-at-large is not equipped to manage chronic health concerns and it’s my belief that we have to.
As I mentioned above, empathy is about creating connection and rapport with your client. But it is also much more.
Empathy can be the tool that allows you to get to the root cause of your clients’ illnesses, which is ultimately what we all want. The more root causes you find, the more you can help people, right?
Empathy, when used correctly, gives you access to nuggets of information that have eluded other practitioners. It opens up doors and reveals dimensions of the person and the illness that have been
hidden from view. And once you have these insights, you can better guide your clients toward wellness.
Let’s get empathizing! Here’s HOW.
This first step is about asking specific, unique questions. These are questions that your clients might not have been asked before, and they are like keys that unlock treasure chests of information.
Specifically, these questions allow you to glean information about the patient’s unique physiological impacts. They let you see what’s going on in there!
Without this critical data, you’re missing the point of practicing functionally. INQUIRY reveals evidence you cannot afford to overlook – evidence that may have been omitted from an Intake Form.
There are several aspects of practicing empathy in a clinical setting that I’m keen on, and I promise to show you how to connect with all of them.
One benefit I want to invite you to watch for immediately, as you put step one of becoming a clinical empathy master into practice, is a surge of feel-good chemicals. Tune-in as you begin to build a bridge to your patients – to hear, see and understand their concerns and history with more keen attention.
What are you watching for?
The feel-good chemical oxytocin will not just be flowing for you, but for your client too!
Putting into action the steps I outline in the above handout, you’ll begin to feel your patient’s trust and belief in you. They may just feel like you’re the one they’ve been looking for all along – the one that’s going to bring them from danger to safety…at long last!
You may just become their last best stop—a phrase that my clinical services have garnered over the past couple of years.
Get your oxytocin flowing by stepping into empathy.
As we gain confidence in the process, slow it down, and learn to ask the questions of connection, we earn more trust and invite hope (where patients may be feeling hopeless), and those feel-good chemicals kick in. Fortunately, oxytocin is a long-acting neurochemical, remaining in the system long after the therapeutic encounter—for you and your patient alike!
Oxytocin makes me want to hug you!
And I do. Virtually. As I applaud your curiosity and hunger to be the best practitioner you can be.
As I mentioned, there are several aspects of empathy that are crucial to helping you become the last best stop for your clients. You have Step 1 already, and you can put this tool to use in your very next session. I have a feeling both you and your clients will benefit!
You’ll begin to see more clearly what’s going on in there and how to find your way to the root cause of illness in your clients.
There are two more steps to complete the Empathy Matrix. And with all three steps you will be well on your way to becoming the last best stop for your clients.
Step 2 shows you how to identify the constitution of your client. This is a missing piece in 21st century medicine, and it will allow you to match your therapies to your clients’ individual needs.
Step 3 shows you how to integrate the entire process!
What you gain from practicing EMPATHY is more client compliance and increased clinical success. And it doesn’t have to take too long.
Functional nutritionist and educator Andrea Nakayama (FNLP, MSN, CNC, CNE, CHHC) is leading patients and practitioners around the world in a revolution to reclaim ownership over our own health. Her passion for food as personalized medicine was born from the loss of her young husband to a brain tumor in 2002. She’s now regularly consulted as the nutrition expert for the toughest clinical cases in the practices of many world-renowned doctors, and trains a thousand practitioners online each year in her methodologies at Functional Nutrition Lab. Learn more about Andrea here.