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Many times we hear from patients that a certain clinician is ‘great’ because she or he ‘really listens’, or ‘I can talk’ to them, or they ‘really care’. These words may mean many things, but they certainly imply that such patients deeply appreciate (perhaps yearn?) to be treated as persons, and that it is important the clinician is present as a person.
We need to be disciplined at the very same time as we are being emotionally present.
Healthcare has always been ethically configured in terms of the professional being present for the patient. The emotional distance and objectivity mentioned in Self-disclosure and sharing experience is one way of maintaining this configuration, though with some reduction of human warmth and personhood. In whole person healthcare we encourage clinicians to be warmly present, to show their humanity. But this must be done with self-reflection and discipline. I need to show my humanity AND remain focused on the needs of the patient. I am there for them.
As an explorer of stories I am often confronted and sometimes moved to tears by something deeply moving, tragic, heart-rending or heart-warming. I might be angered at the way this patient has been treated by my profession. These are legitimate even necessary feelings, partly because they enable me to find ways of responding out of the depths of my being or my own humanity. But all such responses need to be monitored, regulated, and intentionally focused on what is best for the patient. They should not be used for wrenching the consultation in my own direction. We need to be disciplined at the very same time as we are being emotionally present.