Encouragement vs. False Hopes
Working on the spinal cord injury unit, I often find myself treating patients whose functional recovery we can't predict. As I've taken the lead on more of these cases, one of the most significant challenges I face is finding a balance between providing encouragement and giving people false hopes about their progress and recovery. Anyone in any setting can sympathize with these types of situations.
By nature, I am an excitable person and I'll be the first one to admit that my reaction to even slight improvements can be excessive. At times, the excitement is warranted -- only a few days after injury, a patient with an incomplete spinal cord injury begins to exhibit trace movement in some muscle group. Or a patient who is withdrawn and not buying into his recovery has a great session, and I do everything I can to demonstrate to that patient he is making wonderful progress. Other times, I'll reflect on my reactions and realize that my encouragement may be crossing that line into unwarranted excitement and false hopes.
It can be very difficult on the spinal cord injury unit because sometimes, given these life-changing and often heartbreaking circumstances, all you want to do is find some sort of positive light to shed on the situation. Particularly for those people who are having a hard time adjusting. It just breaks my heart to see them "give up," so my natural reaction is to counteract their negativity with overt positivity.
Like I said, I'm starting to realize this isn't necessarily the best approach. But at the same time, I don't know what is. Is this just another one of those skills that develops over time, or is this a personality flaw that is going to haunt me throughout my entire career? It's a tough predicament, and I'm just hoping to find a better way to walk the fine line between encouragement and false hopes.