Loolwa Khazzoom: In my experience, the difference between walking into a room with a healthcare practitioner who held a genuinely loving space for me, and a health care practitioner who didn’t, was night and day. How and why does a healthcare practitioner’s concern for a client translate into encouragement of that person’s healing?
David Simon: Human beings, being mammals, require connection in order to maintain healthy homeostasis in their bodies. If you take a baby away from its mother, for example — you feed it and keep it clean, but don’t allow it to have that constant contact and nurturing — the baby will not thrive, either physically or emotionally.
Human connection activates the portions of the brain which shift us away from a fight-or-flight response, allowing us to activate the healing response. Just knowing that someone cares about you actually begins to awaken the body’s internal pharmacy.
The problem with the way Western medicine has been practiced is that there’s this idea that somehow you can have an objective intervention, that the way that the information is presented doesn’t matter.
But we know that just as there’s a placebo effect, where information presented in a positive way has a greater chance of manifesting the intended outcome, there’s also something call a nocebo effect, where information presented in a discouraging way is more likely to have a negative outcome.
Caring, love, and a sense of connection allow the brain to shift away from the perception of stress or threat (which redirects life energy toward protection). When you create a sense of safety, the perception of a nurturing environment enables the body to redirect its energy towards healing, transformation, and balance.
LK: Going a little further with this concept, something that I really yearned for was doctors who would act not as authoritarians, but as teachers — sharing medical knowledge with me in a respectful way that would empower me with information. Then I read somewhere that the root of the word “doctor” is in fact “teacher.” Please talk about the contrast between the current authoritarian model and this ideal teacher model.
DS: The medical model kind of creates this idea that M.D. stands for Medical Deity. But my experience is that the more that I treat patients as equal, intelligent beings, the more I explain to them what my perspective is on their challenges — why I think that certain choices can make a difference in their outcome — the more they are able to make those changes and see the intended benefits.
In my old days, when I would just basically write a prescription without giving that type of explanation, I wasn’t even aware of the fact that a large percentage of patients never even fulfilled the prescription, or if they did, that they didn’t get the intended effects from it.
At the Chopra Center, we treat everyone as if they are expressions of our own selves. We treat them in the same loving manner as we would treat beloved family members. We recognize that it’s not our job to impose any solution on anyone. Rather, it’s our job to educate our patients as to what their options are and what the likely outcomes are for each of those options.
It is our experience that people want this approach. They don’t want to be patronized; they want to be educated. If there’s a good reason for a certain choice — whether it’s starting chemotherapy, changing one’s diet, getting a massage, or starting yoga classes — then there’s no reason I can’t explain it in a compelling way to the person who’s seeking my advice.
Then I am not allopathically bestowing health upon a person. I am simply a fellow human traveler who happens to have a particular level of expertise because of the time I spend studying this information. I am sharing this information in a way that compassionately can help another human traveler improve his or her level of well-being.
LK: What do you mean by “allopathically bestowing”?
DS: “Allopathic” is somewhat of a pejorative term applied to conventional medicine. “Allo” means “other” or “outside.” The idea is that an allopathic physician says, “Here’s something from the outside. I’m going to put it inside of you, and it’s going to make you better.” Allopathic is somewhat opposed to homeopathic, which asks, “What do we do to resonate with your underlying physiology, and as such, awaken your own inner healing?”
LK: Back to your Medical Deity comment: I feel there is a power imbalance and detachment when the doctor is referred to as “Dr. So-and-So” but the patient is referred to by the first name. Given our social context and expectations, I go along with it and say “Dr. So-and-So,” so as not to seem disrespectful. But the whole setup bugs me. What are your thoughts are about this dynamic?
DS: It’s really a funny thing, because I always introduce myself to my patients by saying, “Hi, I’m David Simon,” and people always reply by calling me “Dr. Simon.” I think part of it is conditioning, but part of it is also this inherent need to empower the doctor with some type of magical properties, in the hope that doing so will trigger the healing response.
Every doctor sees it with their family members: When people come and pay me for my advice, the advice seems to work much better than when my wife or kids ask me for the same advice — because in the latter case, it’s just dad telling them something.
If you have a healing intention, and there’s an expectation that the person that you’re going to has some special knowledge, it seems to encourage people to follow through on the advice — as opposed to going to your brother-in-law, who may tell you the same thing but doesn’t seem to have the same authentic credentials.
It’s an interesting question that you raise.
I’m personally very happy to share my experiences as a fellow human being who is also a physician — in other words, on an equal basis. I am not surprised, but rather a bit amused, by the fact that nonetheless, very few of my patients refer to me as “David.” I often have to tell them, “It’s fine for you to call me David,” to which they usually reply, “Okay Dr. Simon, thank you.”
I think a lot of it also depends upon how much of your sense of self comes from your title. When I was younger and more insecure, “Dr. Simon” gave me some sense of security. These days it’s not really that important to me.
It would be interesting to conduct a study on how people perceive their relationships with their healthcare practitioners. It also would be interesting to find out how many doctors introduce themselves as “Dr. ___,” instead of going by their first names, and to understand why.
David Simon, M.D., is a board-certified neurologist and ayurvedic practioner; co-founder, CEO, and Medical Director of The Chopra Center for Wellbeing; and assistant clinical professor in the Department of Neurosciences at The University of California. Dr. Simon has authored popular wellness books including The Ten Commitments: Translating Good Intentions into Great Choices and Grow Younger, Live Longer: 10 Steps to Reverse Aging (co-authored with Deepak Chopra, M.D.). Dr. Simon is a keynote speaker for the March of Dimes, American Cancer Society, California Medical Association, Harvard Medical School, and other prestigious institutions.