Papercut and colored pencil art by Sheryl Aronson X 5

Monday, November 28, 2011

Helping, Fixing, Serving

One of the blogs that I follow gave me some food for thought today.  The blog, Beyond Meds,  is about one woman's journey getting free from psych meds.  She often finds interesting tidbits which she shares with her readers.  This particular post is a brief excerpt from an article by Rachel Naomi Remen, who is an MD, has lived 45 years with chronic illness, and an author of some very powerful books. 
The gist of the article is a comparison of the words helping, fixing and serving.  Here is one paragraph from Dr. Remen's article:  Helping, fixing and serving represent three different ways of seeing life. When you help, you see life as weak. When you fix, you see life as broken. When you serve, you see life as whole. Fixing and helping may be the work of the ego, and service the work of the soul.
As an occupational therapist, my work generally falls into the category of fixing.  I have even, on occasion, told the nurses I work with that that is the big difference between what they do (helping) and what I do (fixing).  Actually, what I do is not directly fixing, but teaching the patients what they can do to fix themselves.  (I teach anger management and stress management, among other things).

Wow.  I had always thought that I was doing the best thing for my patients by teaching them skills they could use to improve their lives.   Based on what Dr. Remen wrote, I have not been doing right by my patients.  In order to teach them better ways, I have to approach them from the premise that they are broken.  If they are broken, and I can fix them, that puts me on a higher plane than them, right?   It is too easy to fall into that kind of thinking, and I must confess that I may approach my patients with that thought in the back of my mind somewhere.
Dr. Remen reminds me that I am human, and my patients are human, and no human is above any other.  Some of us may be smarter or more skilled or more educated or more experienced in different areas, but that does not make any one of us better than another.  When I am working with patients, I will take a minute to remind myself of this truth.  I will approach them in order to serve them, not to fix them.  I will still teach the same skills I have been teaching, but I will change my attitude.   
Another paragraph from Dr. Remen's article:  Serving makes us aware of our wholeness and its power. The wholeness in us serves the wholeness in others and the wholeness in life. The wholeness in you is the same as the wholeness in me. Service is a relationship between equals: our service strengthens us as well as others. Fixing and helping are draining, and over time we may burn out, but service is renewing. When we serve, our work itself will renew us. In helping we may find a sense of satisfaction; in serving we find a sense of gratitude.
I need to explore this concept more, to chew on it, to turn it over, this way and that, and make it my own.  How can I change how I think and work in order to really apply it in my relationships with everyone, not only patients?  As I said at the beginning of this post- food for thought.

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