Me & My Bones: 2. The Power of Suggestion
Posted by: Helen Davis
In my last post I shared with you that I recently received a diagnosis of osteoporosis, after falling and breaking both wrists.

Today I want to talk specifically about some of the things I was told in the phone call in which the news was delivered. This is not a criticism of the nurse who had the task of giving me results – she  was empathetic, kind and was doing her job exactly as she had been trained to.

But… as you may know, I’m a clinical hypnotherapist and I’m very aware of the power of suggestion. And some of the suggestions she gave me were anything but helpful.

Before I explain, I want to share another medical consultation I had, some 10 years ago.

A few months earlier I’d had a flu-like virus that I couldn’t shake off. It was followed by chronic exhaustion of a kind that I had never experienced in my life. As if every ounce of energy had been drained out of my body.

I’d had all the blood tests and nothing had been found to explain it. And yet I was still barely able to walk up and down stairs, let alone do anything more active.

Prior to this my only regular contact with my GP surgery was to pick up my migraine medications on repeat prescription and I seldom saw the same doctor twice. But on this occasion I got lucky.

The lovely GP who saw me that day told me that since they could find nothing obviously wrong, and yet I was clearly very unwell, she was diagnosing me with Post Viral Fatigue Syndrome (a synonym for ME/CFS).

And then she looked me in the eye and said: “You WILL get better. I can’t tell you when, but I promise you, you will get better.”

She was right. I did.

At the time I didn’t know much about the power of suggestion. But as you may know, I went on to first work with – and then train as – a hypnotherapist, as a result of which I now know a lot about it!

If I’d seen a different GP that day I might well have been told: “I’m sorry, but you have ME. There’s no cure, although you may be able to do things to manage it in the future.” Had that been the case, I am 100% sure that my last decade – and my life today – would look very different.

 Which brings me back to that call with the nurse a couple of months ago.

I was clearly extremely distressed by the news she’d given me. My DEXA scan showed that my bone mineral density (BMD) was low enough for a diagnosis of osteoporosis – a big deal at just 56. She was, as I’ve mentioned, warm and caring. But she had information to impart.

One of the first things she told me: “It’s not possible to improve bone density. All you can try to do is slow the decline.”

She repeated this 3 times during our conversation.

She also told me that “the biggest indicator of falling in the future is having fallen in the past.” In other words, because I’ve fallen once I am now more likely to fall again.

Both these statements are powerful suggestions, especially when they are made by an authority figure, like any kind of medical professional. And when the recipient is in a state of shock or anxiety, as I was, the subconscious mind is wide open to receiving suggestions.

It would have been very easy for me to absorb both these statements as fact.

Those ‘facts’ would then have determined how I responded to this news and what I decided to do (or not do) next.

Luckily for me, my training and experience as a hypnotherapist meant that I recognised the potential power of her words – and I was able to choose to let them wash over me.

I already knew that I had very recently broken and healed both my wrists, which meant that I knew for a fact that my bones were capable of repairing themselves. (We’ll leave aside for now whether or not this is the same mechanism as ‘improving bone density’ – the point is that it gave me something to hold on to that allowed me to reject her powerful suggestion). 

And I knew enough about data analysis to understand that – while she might be correct in saying that statistically ‘falling once significantly increases the risk of future falls’ – my personal risk was no higher now than it was the day before I’d broken my wrists. (We’ll come back to this in my next post).

I also knew that the one thing that WOULD increase my personal risk of falling again was … the fear of falling again!

My understanding of the power of suggestion meant that, rather than unquestioningly accepting these suggestions, I was immediately able to take a step back and do my own research.

It gave me the opportunity to reach my own understanding of what may or may not be possible for me. And it meant that I didn’t find myself – as so many people do in the aftermath of such a diagnosis – terrified of doing anything less I break another bone!

Next time I’m going to talk a bit more about ‘lies, damn lies and statistics’: how they can be both true (in general) and not true (for oneself) at the same time and why context is everything.

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