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Friday, October 5, 2012

Explore Why Doctors Can Save Lives by Listening to their Gut Feelings During a Diagnosis: On Gut Feelings in General Practice

I just went to Georgia to visit my parents. My father, now 95 years old, told me the story of how the family doctor used his gut feelings to save my life when I had bulbar polio at 6 years old. My father had called him on the phone to tell him that I was sick and told him my symptoms (which were almost flu like sounding) and the doctor felt a sense of alarm, immediately jumped in his car and came and picked me up and took me to the hospital in his own car. (yep, that is old school!) My father said he thinks it saved my life that the doctor followed his feelings and acted so quickly and spontaneously rushed me to the hospital for treatment. I am now 65 and had never heard that story before. So when, just following hearing that story, I started reading all the articles and blogs this past 2 weeks circulating about how a new study at the University of Oxford has found that doctors who experience a gut feeling when treating a child should not ignore it, well it really hit home.

The Oxford study found that serious infections can be easily missed in young children and that a doctor’s intuitive feeling that something is wrong, even after an examination suggests otherwise, appears to have even greater diagnostic value than most signs and symptoms. Here is another good source of further studies in Belgium on the importance of gut feelings in medical diagnosis.

So why is this so. I thought we might explore that in terms of what my colleague Robert Sterling and I have found in our many years of working with people exploring gut feelings for decision-making. Of course the best exploration would be with doctors themselves and a little later I will suggest just such a study and exploration.

We know that gut feelings hold information about the impact of our life upon us and they are the key to our feeling memories and patterns of intuitive experiences. Gut feelings reveal our unconscious information and often this information comes to our awareness before our conscious information in our thinking. Unconscious information is held in our bodies. That is why a painting we create today may hold clues to what we will consciously learn about ourselves in the future and that is the bases for exploring art as therapy and as a depth psychology process. Children can often not verbalize their feeling of trauma, but they can draw or do art about these feelings. Adults are really no different, although they may have learned some communication skills around feelings. It stands to reason that physicians would become aware of their unconscious accumulated information from past medical cases through their gut feelings long before the actual data for a conscious diagnosis becomes available to them.

We found in counseling that if a person reflects on their life by using their gut feelings of emptiness or fullness rather than just trying to think back about what happened (centering on details) and goes back in time using these feelings as a focus (that is, center on the feelings in your body, your gut, and go back in time and see where it lands you), they are surprised at the amount of data and information that also comes flooding in, memories of details that they had buried in the unconscious and could not access through merely trying to think back to earlier times.

Our book has several verbatim examples of this somatic reflection process with people in it and also includes very detailed instructions on how to access the gut feeling memory to reassess the past. I thought it might be useful to doctors reading this blog to have a personalized beginning of the protocol of the Somatic Reflection Process written specifically for their use while reflecting back on their gut feelings that prompt a curious look into a gut feeling medical diagnosis. Of course, we advise you to read our book in order to complete the process and to get a clearer and deeper understanding of this process. It would be interesting if doctors would take these gut feelings that they have about a diagnosis and reflect upon them, exploring them to more precisely uncover some patterns that they have in their unconscious of signals of disease. Here is the beginning of the Somatic Reflection Process for physicians:

1.    1.  — Center on the gut feeling about your patient. If you cannot locate this feeling at this time, see the patient’s face in your mind and say the diagnosis to your self, while you focus on your feelings in your body.
2.     2.  — Now describe just that feeling in your body and while keeping any details of the issue in your mind, express the feeling. (Studies thus far have shown doctors to have either a gut feeling with a sense of alarm that something does not fit or one of reassurance concerning the diagnosis.)
3.     3. — From here the physician will be able to use the general protocol of the Somatic Reflection Process (SRP) for exploring unresolved issues that everyone else uses to explore unresolved life events (see page 155 of our book “What’s Behind Your Belly Button?” for the complete SRP protocol). At this point, the reflection may take twists and turns into both the personal life and professional life of the physician and of seemingly unrelated events to the present situation and diagnosis. The protocol on page 155 will allow you to explore systematically your inner consciousness and most likely see patterns you hold in your unconscious that are based on both life experience and your medical practice, with an increase of access to information stored in your unconscious.

The use of the Somatic Reflection Process by doctors with gut feeling diagnosis would make a very fascinating and potentially significant heuristic research study in itself. Doctors may be holding far more medical knowledge in their unconscious that has never fully surfaced than we might imagine. And we may also find that doctors who have skills in accessing their gut feelings in general in their personal lives, have an added diagnostic gut feeling ability in their medical professional practice. This could have implications for educational programs for the general practitioners to include teaching a process like the Somatic Reflection Process to medical students.

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  1. I totally believe in paying attention to our "gut feelings" and I was always so amazed at all the diagnostic information we found in our patients' house-tree-person drawings--especially the "person" drawings. Great post!

  2. Thanks Sandra, for the comment. I so agree that the house-tree-person can be a great beginning in a session.

  3. This is a really good post. Being Christian, I believe that the Holy Spirit is behind a lot of our gut feelings. We find we avoid many terrible situations if we listen to that small voice in us. Thanks very much for this, Martha, I enjoyed it!

  4. Thank you, Deirdre, for that point. We do also experience that our gut feelings are connected to what we call "Presence" and a larger knowing than our personal knowledge. This is why it is so important to explore our gut feelings, as they are our link to our caring nature and greater life force.


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