Partnering in Health Part 2: There Is No Suffering We Cannot Care About  

May 6, 2024 Mary Osborne RDH

By Mary Osborne, RDH  

Think for a moment: Is there a change you think you could make in your life that would contribute positively to your health? Is there anything you could be doing—or not doing—that could improve your overall health and wellbeing? Most of us can think of something we could do, or do more consistently, to improve our health. Next, ask yourself if the reason you have not made the change you need to make is because you do not have enough information. Our clinical training taught us that if we give people the right information they will change their behaviors. It’s easy to get disappointed in ourselves and our patients when that turns out to not always be true.   

Reflecting on our own past and current health challenges is a way to remind ourselves that health is a journey, not just a set of strategies. What makes perfect sense to us now, may not have been relevant 20 years ago. Often we have heard the relevant information before but were slow to act on it. We may have conflicting priorities, such as time, or money. We may have had fears or doubts. When we can look at our own journey with understanding and compassion we are better able to see our patients that way.   

I remember a patient who came to us with a lot of dentistry that needed to be done. As we talked with her about recommendations for treatment, her eyes welled up with tears. “It’s nothing,” she said when I asked her what the tears were about. Eventually she shared with us that she and her family had been saving up to build a deck on their house. Doing the dentistry she knew she needed would mean they could not build the deck. There was a time when I might have thought, “What’s more important, a deck or your dental health?!?” But I was moved by her struggle. I can’t judge what a deck may mean to her and her family, but I can relate to her sadness in letting go of something they had been saving toward.   

As you advise patients, it’s helpful to share that are you on a path to better health yourself, and that it is not always easy. In this way we can step outside of the role of “expert” and come to our conversations as fellow travelers. And when we do come as fellow travelers, we bring our empathy, our humanity, and we allow ourselves to feel compassion. We are likeable.  

One of my favorite books is Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen’s Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories That Heal. She quotes the psychologist Carl Rogers, who said:  

Before every session, I take a moment to remember my humanity. There is no experience that this man has that I cannot share with him, no fear that I cannot understand, no suffering that I cannot care about, because I too am human. No matter how deep his wound, he does not need to be ashamed in front of me. I too am vulnerable. And because of this, I am enough. Whatever his story, he no longer needs to be alone with it. This is what will allow his healing to begin. 

Because we are on a journey of becoming healthier just like everyone else, we can sit side by side with a patient. We can say, “I get it. It’s not always easy.” We can allow ourselves to feel compassion—that urge to genuinely help someone, and gently invite them to understand they are no longer alone.

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About Author

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Mary Osborne RDH

Mary is known internationally as a writer and speaker on patient care and communication. Her writing has been acclaimed in respected print and online publications. She is widely known at dental meetings in the U.S., Canada, and Europe as a knowledgeable and dynamic speaker. Her passion for dentistry inspires individuals and groups to bring the best of themselves to their work, and to fully embrace the difference they make in the lives of those they serve.

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We All Need Personal Power

July 13, 2020 Paul Henny DDS

Life is a lot like a game, it’s a series of physical, emotional, and financial interactions with our environment and others. Sometimes we “win,” and sometimes we “lose.” And sometimes all we can do is just learn, so that the next time a similar situation comes around, the outcome will be more favorable for us. In this context, we can also view life as a series of negotiations… negotiations with ourselves, negotiations with others, and negotiations with our environment.

On this, psychologist Jordan Peterson, Ph.D. states: “You can’t negotiate from a position of weakness. You need to understand that if you want to advance your career and yourself you must negotiate with others. And this is because, even if you are competent at what you do, but you remain silent, you will be ignored. So, in the grand scheme of things, what you can do will not even be considered. You will just be a part of the background which is keeping everything functioning for everyone else.”

To develop ourselves, and to become successful, we must, therefore, be both competent AND strategic. We must be able to say to ourselves and to others (directly and indirectly), “This is who I am. This is what I believe. This is what I can do to make your life better, easier, or more fulfilling.” But that kind of posture, that kind of clarity, and that kind of purposefulness, is only useful within the context of a helping relationship, where the meaning of “better,” “easier,” and “more fulfilling,” can be discussed and negotiated.

In the posture of a helping relationship, we are in a position to make a better offer than doing nothing. Truly helping relationships with our patients require personal power, and personal power is both principle-centered and reciprocal, as the power actually comes from the other person and their belief in us.

In situations where we have no personal power, because we have not or cannot establish a truly helping relationship, we rely on other means to advance our agenda, such as leveraging convenience, emotions, pride, deception, loyalty to a third party, fear, and so forth.When we do this, our principles are lost, as is the greatest potential for the other person to believe in us.

Remember, you have the personal power to continually reassess relationships with patients and choose whether or not proceeding with a relationship in its current form is helpful. Helping the other person have personal power… creating experiences that earn trust… choosing to manage relationships with our patients first… then, offering true help and discussing why it is better… this is the path that positively influences everything else downstream.

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Paul Henny DDS

Dr. Paul Henny maintains an esthetically-focused restorative practice in Roanoke, Virginia. Additionally, he has been a national speaker in dentistry, a visiting faculty member of the Pankey Institute, and visiting lecturer at the Jefferson College or Health Sciences. Dr. Henny has been a member of the Roanoke Valley Dental Society, The Academy of General Dentistry, The American College of Oral Implantology, The American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, and is a Fellow of the International Congress of Oral Implantology. He is Past President and co-founder of the Robert F. Barkley Dental Study Club.

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The Four Burner Theory

May 16, 2020 Paul Henny DDS

Imagine your life depicted as a metaphorical four-burner stovetop, with each burner representing a major quadrant of your life, and those quadrants being:  

FAMILY        CAREER 

HEALTH       FRIENDS
 

This thought experiment is called “The Four Burner’s Theory,” and it is similar in some ways to L.D. Pankey’s Cross of Life. Both concepts imply that the pursuit of life balance is a process, not an event, and that each quadrant represents a cluster of related values-based decisions that  lead us into our future. 

Obviously, there are many times in life, during which by choice or circumstance, we find our life is severely out of balance, for example, dental school, parenting children, starting a practice, and so on. 

The Four Burners Theory tells us that to be successful in business we need to initially “turn down” two burners to establish an initial beachhead. But frankly, we don’t want to hear that kind of message. Rather, we would rather hear that we can have it all and soon.  

This impatient, short-term mindset has now permeated our culture, even to the point where many people seem to think that somehow “having it all” is their birthright. But viewing life balance as a birthright is a problematic perspective, because it can never be fully realized, and if we cling to it too firmly, it becomes easy for us to start to feel like a victim. 

And victims don’t act. Instead, they blame-shift. They sulk. They over-think. And they fail to act in ways that will move them toward greater life balance. A much more realistic perspective is to acknowledge that our life is full of seasons, around which we need to be aware, adapt, accept, and respond appropriately. 

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About Author

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Paul Henny DDS

Dr. Paul Henny maintains an esthetically-focused restorative practice in Roanoke, Virginia. Additionally, he has been a national speaker in dentistry, a visiting faculty member of the Pankey Institute, and visiting lecturer at the Jefferson College or Health Sciences. Dr. Henny has been a member of the Roanoke Valley Dental Society, The Academy of General Dentistry, The American College of Oral Implantology, The American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, and is a Fellow of the International Congress of Oral Implantology. He is Past President and co-founder of the Robert F. Barkley Dental Study Club.

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