Is Non-Compliance Keeping You Sick?


It’s an all too common story. People suffer from long-term pain and illness, so they go see a doctor or healer for help and then expect the problem to somehow magically disappear without substantial effort on their part.

The problem is most health issues—especially chronic ones—almost always demand time and patient effort to correct. Some of you may disagree, as one of my patients did (let’s call her Laura).

Laura was excited about the migraine program I put her on and was garnering results for the first two weeks. Then she started to slip back to her old symptoms. I asked her if she was doing what I asked of her, every day. She said that no, her schedule did not permit her to do everything I asked. I told her we are partners in her health. I am the director and she is the doer. She disagreed. Here’s how part of the conversation went.

“As a healer, Laura, it is my job to educate you about your health concerns. It is my job to instruct you as to how lifestyle modifications including diet, exercise, sleep, thoughts and work habits can affect your health for better or worse. It is my job to do whatever I can manually to your body and energy to assist in the healing process.

“However, it is your job to help yourself. Eighty percent of this corrective effort and healing process is in your hands. You are responsible on a daily basis for doing what needs to be done to change your cycle of pain into a cycle of wellness.”

Her reply: “I disagree with you, Dr. Wiley! How can you expect a patient who is in pain to be able to do what you ask? We come to you for help, and we expect you to make us better. It is your job, not ours.”

Wow! Her last comment leads me to the point of this article. Non-compliance is not only a big issue, for some it is also a symptom.

When you are dealing with powerful pharma drugs, generally your pain or ill health symptom will go away as long as you take the meds. The pain or rash or high blood pressure may return, but if you take another pill, it again will disappear. And since it shows faster results, you would think that patient compliance with Western medicine should be better than that of alternative therapies. The opposite is true. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reports that billions of dollars per year are lost in the health industry due to patients not filling their prescriptions.

They couldn’t even make a trip to the pharmacy! No wonder they don’t exercise, meditate or attend all of their acupuncture or chiropractic visits. Yet for those individuals seeking alternative therapies for their health concerns, compliance plays an even more central role.

For starters, remember that the money you spend may be your own. Most alternative practitioners do not (or cannot) accept insurance. So patient compliance involves hard-earned out-of-pocket cash being spent on treatment, herbs, supplements, gym memberships, personal trainers, life coaches and so on.

What’s more, most alternative practices view the body as a whole system and, as such, bringing the body back to wellness, back to wholeness, requires a synergistic approach. And this approach includes hands-on treatments—be they massage, acupuncture or Rolfing®—and also modifications of daily lifestyle and activities, as well as diet and herbal or supplemental requirements, and the carrying out of mind and/or body exercises.

One would think the person choosing natural methods of correcting imbalances in the body is ready and willing to do whatever they need to carry out the wellness protocol. But unfortunately, this is not always the case. 

I can’t tell you how many hundreds of times patients have said to me, “I’ve tried everything, and no one can help me. I did acupuncture a few times, and it didn’t work. I changed my diet, and that didn’t work…” etc. Yet after questioning, I find that they only attended three acupuncture treatments when the course of treatment was a minimum of 10. And that they “watched” their diet and decided they could just eat what they wanted “within reason,” when in fact the dietitian was clear that specific foods must be avoided and others should be added.

If you are not willing or able to carry out the directed healing approach, then how can you expect to get better from that approach?

If a patient requires a strengthening of their core muscles (abdomen, hips, low back) and are also told that they absolutely must refrain from drinking caffeine and consuming dairy products, they must do it. There is nothing in the world any healer can do to make this happen for them.

When chronic back pain is due to weak muscles or a muscle imbalance, it is only the patient who can strengthen those muscles. If too much caffeine in the diet causes headaches, it is the patient alone who must remove that substance from her diet. It is not ok to have just "that one cup" in the morning and to skip the gym when you don’t feel up to it. It’s causing your pain and making you sick!

It couldn’t possibly be more obvious. Many health problems are partly (and often mostly) self-induced. This means that people cause their own problems, or at least aggravate them or do things to prevent them from being corrected. 

So I’m afraid I found it difficult to sympathize with Laura. She refused to do what was asked of her for her own benefit, yet complained she was not seeing the results she expected, despite the fact, for the first few weeks, she did most of what was asked of her and had experienced definite relief.

With this in mind, I have learned to ask patients a new question when I conduct their initial examination: “Will you do what is asked of you to help yourself correct your problem?” If not, then non-compliance becomes one of the symptoms I try to correct—mostly through patient education.

In closing, let me offer this advice to people seeking alternative therapies. If you are willing to try something different, then be just as willing to take personal responsibility for your own health and wellness to carry it out. When you are instructed to do certain things, please do them. If you don’t take the advice of the wellness practitioner how can you expect your health to improve? If you don’t feel better, and you have not done what is asked of you, don’t blame the practitioner or the modality. You can only hold yourself responsible for letting yourself down. 

Nobody cares about your health and well-being more than you do. You are the one who must live with your health issues every day. Therefore, it is only you who can “fix” them. The acupuncturist, chiropractor, massage therapist, personal trainer and dietitian are simply offering assessment and guidance. It falls on your shoulders to put that knowledge and those programs into practice to make a difference in your life.

Come on, you can do it!

Yours in self-directed wellness,

Dr. Mark Wiley

Personal Liberty

Dr. Mark Wiley

is an internationally renowned mind-body health practitioner, author, motivational speaker and teacher. He holds doctorates in both Oriental and alternative medicine, has done research in eight countries and has developed a model of health and wellness grounded in a self-directed, self-cure approach.

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