Belief is Real Medicine

The # 1 Rule of Recovery and Rebuilding – if you don’t believe you can improve, you won’t.

This is because once we fix a certain outcome in our minds, we unconsciously seek evidence to support it.

If you think you’ll have (insert physical ailment here), forever, you will find something that reminds you of that almost everyday which then reinforces the idea that you can’t improve.

My students would sometimes want to hurry through the interview section of a consult to get to the “good stuff” – examination, physical findings, tests and measurements.

I encouraged them to re-think their strategy. It’s in the interview where you discover the belief system of the client and have a chance of modifying it. And that takes time. The interview is therapeutic. Perhaps the most therapeutic thing we do.

My Dad believed in me but I didn’t know just how much until he was close to dying.

See, we had a fight, when I was in my teens and, since we’re both strong minded, we didn’t talk for 38 years.

Yeah, I know. That’s a long time. And I think of him nearly everyday now and struggle with the tug of the past and all I missed. But I had four years with him, played “Amazing Grace” at his burial ceremony. I cherish those memories.

In 2009, at the gentle nudging of Elle and my brother Josh, I sent him an email asking if we could start over.

His response was:

“I am delighted to hear from you. Your concerns are not without foundation of course.  Let me say once a father always a father or once a parent always a parent. To go back in time, teenagers do some things they shouldn’t but the parent is expected to overlook these little mistakes.  It is not possible to wipe out all this, that was yesterday and this is now. I am a believer in forward.”

And he went on to say,

” In time the pain and tears go away, the memories I shall always cherish, i.e.– reading a three year old a book at bedtime he knows by heart, to skip pages and have to go back all the way to the beginning. I still retained that and others. I hope I have made it clear I do not want to regress, there can be no joy in that and nothing worthwhile from it. Can we pick up the pieces?  I am sure we can. I did not stop loving my boys–regardless.”

“I am a believer in forward.”

The story I’m about to share happened near the end of his life when he was struggling with heart failure, COPD, diabetes. He could barely get up and around which wasn’t so good for his condition.

A physical therapist had come to the home and had given him some exercises to do in bed. My dad did them as prescribed but then he asked me what I thought.

“Well, I’m hesitant. I don’t want to get in the middle Dad. I think you should talk to the therapist first,” I said.

“I’ve been doing these same exercises for several weeks and he’s only coming back once more. I don’t see how any of these will help get me up and moving, I need stronger legs. I can barely get in the wheelchair and I’ve been doing the exercises. I know you know something more about this,” he said.

“Well, ok send me what he gave you and I’ll look it over,” I replied.

The exercises were, well, basic. Things like leg lifts, arm lifts, sit on the edge of the bed and lift the knees, straighten the knees. I thought he should be up on his feet some. I suspect the therapist felt that my dad wasn’t safe which is why he kept him in bed.

“Dad, I’m going to send you a couple exercises to add to your list. But you have to do them exactly as I tell you. Don’t deviate from the instructions. These will work but you have to promise me, no tinkering, no experimenting. Make sense?”

“Yes, sir, 10-4, you’re the boss!” my Dad exclaimed with a dash of sarcasm in his voice.

In the kitchen, Dad had an island that was about 4 x 6 feet with plenty of room around it. The exercises I gave him were:

  • Stand at the island, hold onto the edge and then lift one leg, count to 10, set the leg down, lift the other leg, count to 10 and then sit down to rest. Do the whole thing 3 times. Make a note of how tiring the exercise is and how long it takes to complete the cycle.
  • Stand, hold on to the ledge and step sideways. Have Mom follow from behind with the wheelchair. Take 5 steps and then sit down, rest. Repeat until you make it around the island and make note of the time it took and how tiring it is.

I also gave him instructions on how to progress the exercises.

About two weeks later, I spoke with him on the phone.

“Hey Dad, how’re you doing?”

“Good. My legs feel stronger. I can do 3 loops around the island now and I’m barely touching it. I feel a lot better.  I’m ready to get outside! That therapist came by so I showed him your exercises. He said, ‘Huh, never thought of that…that’s a pretty good idea’ and I said to him ‘Pretty good? Pretty good? I’m up and going!'” exclaimed Dad.

My Dad improved some because my exercises got him on his feet but the largest part of the improvement came from his belief in me, in what I gave him to do and his belief in himself.

He didn’t see himself moving forward with exercises lying in bed. Remember, he’s a believer in forward.

Belief is the medicine we all need when we face difficulties. Belief in ourselves, belief in others, belief in what we’re doing. Placebos are a valid treatment tool. They work. It’s not fakery.

There are no guarantees that because you believe in something that you’ll recover but if you don’t believe, you won’t.

Be a believer in forward like my dad.

That’s all I have for now.

Thanks for reading.



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