Health in Relationships

Ok back home from the Relationship Audit day. Will post some thoughts on that soon. But I have to admit the highlight of the day for me was the train ride back to London with fellow delegate Minette Coetzee. She is a Nurse-Lecturer (love that idea by the way!) from South Africa and she shared a series of wonderful stories and insights about the role of relationship in health and healing. She contrasted the standard medical paradigm, the one that treats diseases following a well-documented and not very intuitive process of labelling the illness and then following programmed steps to defeat it… with a relational approach that is based on connecting to the sufferer. The latter approach tends to avoid words like “patient” as it is based on a more equal idea of the relationship a healer might have with someone wanting healing.

Can’t document the whole conversation. In fact, I’ll just pick this insight. Take the case of a nurse holding a child and comforting the child until it can sleep. The breakthrough for the nurse is not in noticing the healing effect of her contact on the child. It is in appreciating the healing effect on her/him of holding the child until it sleeps. Thus healing is not a one-way process. Minette also shared the story of the nurse whose breakthrough in working with AIDS sufferers came when she had an image of sharing the disease with the patient. At that point, her whole way of engaging with AIDS sufferers changed. I often talk about the need to show up to relationships. This is a marvellous example of just that.

We also talked about how the archtitecture of health care often plays to a reductionist view, with patients divided into compartments, isolated from each other and from the nursing staff. In contrast, she told me of a hospital in Nairobi built on the principle of the circle, with nursing stations and a social area in the centre providing focus and connection for the sick children around them. (As a fan of Open Space and Improv, I have a lot of enthusiasm for the impact of arranging people in circles…)

Oh and PS if you like this post, you’ll probably also enjoy Rob Paterson’s on relative status in health.

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