by Katrina Ubell MD
As doctors, we take great pride in having full control over ourselves. In order to act professionally and make our clinical experiences all about the patient and his or her issues, we’re able to stuff down any negative emotions we might be experiencing.
Sure, there is the occasional surgeon who flings instruments at the OR walls out of frustration, but in general, that behavior is few and far between.
I became an expert at the skill of stuffing my emotions out of necessity after I delivered a full-term stillborn baby about 5 years into my pediatric practice. The grief was overwhelming and I had constant reminders about what I had lost when I saw pregnant mothers and my newly born patients in my office.
A physical therapist friend who had suffered multiple miscarriages gave me the advice to always try to make the interaction about the patient. If they offered condolences, politely accept them and then start asking questions about their child and family, turning the attention back on them. I kept this advice in mind for many months after my loss.
We doctors live a human existence just like our patients. We experience the same range of emotions, such as grief, frustration, anger, disappointment, joy, and pride. It’s important for us to learn to manage these emotions in an effective way, that serves us and our patients, in order for us to provide the highest quality of care possible while maintaining our mental health.
After my baby was born still, I knew I would need the help of a trained professional if I ever planned to return to my practice. I had my first meeting with a psychologist 2 days after I left the hospital empty-handed.
It was a wonderful decision to work with a psychologist for a number of reasons. Everyone in my life was devastated by our loss, so she was a neutral, unaffected party. She was able to hold space for me to say anything I needed to say. She reassured me that how I felt was completely normal. She challenged me to leave my house and integrate back into my normal life. After working with her for a couple months, I was able to return to my practice.
But sometimes doctors aren’t in need of a trained psychologist, therapist, or psychiatrist. Sometimes we are already functioning at a very high level, yet still have a sticking point in our lives. It might be struggling with our marriage relationship, feeling stressed about our nonexistent work-life balance, feeling burned out, or being unable to permanently lose weight.
In these cases, a certified life coach can be just what doctors need to work through this rough area in their lives. A life coach is someone who is trained to help their clients evaluate and work through the mental components of their struggle. For instance, if the problem is overeating in order to deal with stress which results in being overweight, the coach would work with the client to identify the thoughts and emotions that drive the action of overeating. Then he or she would help the client to identify new ways of thinking about their life that ultimately give them the result that they want, which is freedom from overeating.
How to tell if you need a life coach or a psychologist
When people ask me how they would know whether they should see a psychologist or a life coach, I boil it down to very simple terms. If you are having a hard time functioning at a normal level for any reason, whether it be depression, anxiety, an adjustment reaction, or most certainly suicidal ideations, then you should consult with a psychologist and psychiatrist.
But if you’re already functioning at a normal level yet want to evolve yourself to the next level or want to sort through some difficult areas of your life, a life coach can be the perfect choice. Most coaching is done on the phone or via email, so you don’t have to carve out any additional travel time. What is also very appealing to doctors is the fact that you can find a coach who lives somewhere else in the country, so you never risk running into your coach at the grocery store.
Certification for life coaching is highly unregulated. Coming from the extremely regulated profession of medicine, it can be difficult to know how to find the right coach for you. First, look for someone who specializes in your problem. While I have the skills to coach anybody on any topic, I would not be as effective a coach to a man working in corporate America as a coach who works with that niche every day.
Second, peruse the coach’s website and read their blog. Does the tone and content resonate with you? Do you feel like this person would “get” you? If you’re not in agreement with their free online content, it’s probably not a good match.
Third, all coaches offer some sort of free call, usually anywhere from 15 to 60 minutes, to let you get to know the coach and decide if he or she can help you before making any financial commitments. These calls can have a variety of names such as a mini session or a discovery call. Definitely take the coach candidates up on this offer. It’s free so you have nothing to lose!
The work I’ve personally done with the life coach I hired has completely changed my life. My only regret is that I didn’t learn about coaching sooner. Because of the great results I’ve had, I decided to leave my practice to become a life coach for other physicians. It’s been a wonderful transition and I get just as much value out of helping other doctors as I did in my pediatric practice.
About the author: Katrina Ubell, MD is a board-certified pediatrician and a life and weight loss coach. She earned a B.S. in Biomedical Engineering from Johns Hopkins University and an M.D. from the University of Michigan. She completed her pediatric residency at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin and worked in a private pediatric practice for 10 years. She then retired from her practice to become a life and weight loss coach for other women physicians. She is married to a physician and they have three children. She can be found at www.katrinaubellmd.com.
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