The Therapeutic Importance of Hope

Hope propels therapy forward. Despair stops it cold.

Dentists rob patients of hope when they want to project an inflated level of certainty. When dentists “know” ahead of time how everything is going to turn out, whether good or bad, the candle of hope is snuffed out. Yes, even assuring patients that everything will be OK can be unkind. Should things not turn out as we had promised, our poor patients are then suddenly whiplashed into disappointments they were promised by our certainty would not occur.

Here is a simple example. Never promise, or let anyone on your team promise, that something you will do won’t hurt. It might. And how do you know what “hurt” means to the other person? Instead, we can always promise to do our best and to be sensitive to how they are responding to what we are doing.

Here’s an interesting thought. Our patients’ hopes are tied to our humility. In other words, to give them hope, we must admit we do not know everything and not everything we do works the way we want it to. This is not a slight on competence. It is simply acknowledging a fact of life. By being uncertain as to outcomes, we too express hope and become fellow travelers with our patients. Furthermore, unless we give patients the gift of uncertainty upfront, we cannot really celebrate with them in the end when everything works out just fine.

May all our patients beat the odds, and may we not throw cold water on anyone’s desire to go for the Hail Mary pass. And should things not work out as we all hope together that they will, may we learn to mourn with those who mourn. Just because life doesn’t always work out doesn’t mean we have to go through the dark valleys alone.

So here’s to hope, to celebrations, to uncertainties and even to the occasional disappointments. All of it blended together is actually what makes life the very rich tapestry I think we are all meant to experience.

Now, having said all of this, may I offer one note of caution. I am really not suggesting that we support another’s foolishness. If it is clear, in our professional opinion, that something is hopeless or dangerous, we must be honest. However, in the processes may we be gentle in how we express it. Let’s look for hope that is certainly in the situation, but might be hiding somewhere the patient has yet to see.

Shannon is tired, glad it's over, and very numb.

Shannon is tired, glad it’s over, and very numb.

 

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