Should we try to “Cheer up” patients?

male patient and familyAbout six years ago I had a T.I.A., which resulted in me being taken to hospital in an ambulance with all the lights and sirens going off which was an extremely interesting experience. Since it was a minor event I recovered 99%. However the whole incident had some interesting consequences and observations which have, in part, motivated me to sit down and write this brief article.

The focus today is on dealing with “adults”- often in intensive Care Units. Sick young children are different in that they often lack the knowledge necessary to understand and/or deal properly with their problem and tend to trust implicitly in their parents. The best way of dealing with them is to provide them with all the love & emotional support they need and the certainty of a successful outcome.

Unfortunately, over the past few months I have had occasion to visit many friends and family members both in Intensive-Care Units in hospitals and at home recuperating from their medical intervention. While my experience recently has been in Spain, I have observed exactly the same behaviour is many other countries.

When in hospital as a patient, people generally become much more kinaesthetic (focussed on emotions, touch, taste and smell and their current physical status). This is based on their personal physical knowledge based on their own interpretation of how they feel within themselves, their actual situation in the hospital and also that of the possible / probable effects of their medical problem on family and friends. They know how they feel in their own body and form their own opinions about the current and possible future situations that might develop.

Many people attempt to “cheer up” the patient by talking about a possibly unreal future outcome which the patient knows or feels may be false. Often, the speaker is perceived as only providing them with false expectations which the patient might or might not believe – remember, it is their body which has by far the greatest influence on their emotions, touch, taste and smell. They are the only ones who know what is really happening with / to them from the inside. Everyone that I have spoken to has indicated dislike at the “Cheer up, you’ll soon be doing….” attitude.

The speaker would be better serving the patient by focussing on, and verbalizing about, actual observable progress – however minimal it might be – compared with the previous situation. This type of “priming” is useful for subconsciously directing the patient to focus on micro-improvements instead of only major ones. After all, major improvements usually occur after a series of minor ones. The patient would from then on subconsciously focus on the element that has improved. These types of comments will normally be received as “honest” and real which increases their validity and that of the speaker.

However, this does require a certain degree of Visual Acuity which requires the speaker to actually consciously focus on the improvements made by actually closely observing the patient. The speaker might notice a slight improvement in sensor-motor skills, changes in skin tone, muscle tension, posture, fluidity of gestures, or anything that can be identified as any improvement on the previous condition. This identification of progress is processed on the subconscious level by the patient as something that they might not have focussed on but, upon reflection, is something that they agree with (basically a nudge to change attentional focus from one area to another). This elegant shifting of attention from a less productive focus to a much more useful one is both helpful and motivational for the patient. When we help the patient realize for themselves that they are improving even though it might be slowly – they will feel better knowing that these micro.improvements are rel and that their body is responding properly to the treatment being given.

I hope this article has provided some interesting ideas for you.
All constructive feedback would be appreciated.

Ian Brownlee
Madrid, Spain, March 2019.


About ianbrownlee

Ian Brownlee, the founder of Brownlee & Associates has been actively involved in the field of interpersonal & transcultural communication since 1977. He has worked in universities and companies in the following countries: Laos, Thailand, Hong Kong, Korea, Japan, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, France, Italy, England, The United States of America & Spain, as a teacher, university lecturer, trainer, researcher & consultant. In addition, his experience in living in these countries, and studying the language & communication and interaction styles of each has aided him in reaching a real understanding of intercultural and transcultural differences and how to resolve them. Ian Brownlee has various masters degrees from British Universities: One in Linguistics & Teaching English Overseas from Manchester University, one in Training & Development with a specialization in the area of Communication and Adult learning awarded by the University of Sheffield. He has also gained professional qualifications in Psychotherapy & Hypnotherapy from various professional organizations. During his university career he has also studied elements of Sociology, Organizational psychology, Educational psychology, Psycholinguistics and Kinesics. He is a licensed Practitioner, Master Practitioner, and Master Trainer in NLP. as well as being a trainer in Ericksonian Hypnosis. He is a member of a wide range of professional organizations involved in Training, Applied Psychology, Hypnotherapy & Ericksonian Hypnosis, Psychotherapy, Interpersonal Communication & Cross-cultural Communication. He is also recognized by the Program on Negotiation, Harvard University, as a Negotiation Skills Trainer & Mediator and has been a collaborator on various projects with the program, and as such is in great demand as a negotiation consultant for some of the largest multinationals operating worldwide. His wide experience gained in multinational organizations in positions such as Director of Training, Communications Consultant and Negotiator / Mediator has helped many people to learn and apply new methods of negotiating skills and advanced communication techniques both in their private and professional lives. He has published various articles & books related to the field of interpersonal communication and he is the author of all the courses taught by Brownlee & Associates. He has lived and worked in Spain since 1985, initially as a trainer / Special Assistant in a multinational pharmaceutical company and then as the Training Manager for a multinational company involved in Clinical Analysis & Nuclear Medicine. Brownlee & Associates was formed in 1991 and currently has a small, highly-trained staff. While based in Madrid, courses are given world-wide either in English or Spanish. Brownlee & Associates currently work with leading international companies in the areas of pharmaceuticals , Information systems, luxury products, food & beverages, etc.
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