The sickness role is a psychological concept that we give to patients to help them recognize the fact that they are NOT to blame for having an illness. Being ill is NOT something to be ashamed of, something to apologize for, and they are certainly not responsible for being sick.
Unfortunately, some people have misunderstood this concept to mean that they have no role in their healing, that “others” should be entirely responsible for their care and recovery, and they avoid taking ownership of the fact that their actions DO matter in how their healing journey will go.
So yes, none of us are responsible for having an illness AND at the same time, we absolutely DO have a responsibility to take ownership of the healing process.
A good example that I often see at the ED are patients who are coming in due to various ailments, none of which are significantly impairing or acute, because they would like a formal diagnosis or a second opinion for their condition. These ailments are often things like chronic pain, tension headaches, mood instability, ongoing relational issues, etc. Many of these conditions have already been looked at by (often multiple times) a specialist/ consultant, diagnosed, and treatments have been offered. Yet, many patients come to the ED looking for another diagnosis, a different “sick role” that they feel would explain their condition better. While it is completely understandable that an individual would want a better understanding of their condition, I am often surprised at how many of these patients believe that their recovery is entirely dependent on receiving the “correct” diagnosis and meeting the “right” specialist.
There is a huge societal role in this as well – we are often bombarded with images of patients coming to the hospital to be “taken care of”, where they are tucked into the bed and nurtured like a child, while taking a completely passive role in their recovery. This cannot be further from the truth. Best care is delivered when the patient takes an active role in and ownership of their own healing journey; when they take steps to best serve their body and mind. I wonder what changes we would see in our society if we start sending this message that patients ARE capable of and SHOULD be taking charge of their own health.
For example, someone with chronically depressed mood that have unfortunately shown poor response to conventional treatments can become angry at the health care system and the doctors for failing them, and this would be completely fair. AND, at the same time, they can take ownership of their healing process, and start actively engaging in psychotherapy, exercise regularly, set up a sleep schedule, explore their spirituality, tap into their social resources, and make a commitment everyday to heal.
One can use this for patients who have terminal illnesses as well. Palliative care is a large part of our training. It is incredible how patients with months left to live can make a commitment to do the best that they can every morning that they are alive. When they could walk, they would take a stroll around their neighborhood daily. When they couldn’t anymore, they got on a wheelchair and sat by the window every morning. When they were too unwell to be on a wheelchair, they listened to audiobooks and enriched their mind.
We can all take responsibility and ownership of our own wellness, and make a commitment. Us health professionals depend on our patients to work as a central piece of the healing journey. Without the patient’s commitment, there is only so much we can do.
As a witch and a spiritual person in general, I deeply believe that we are an active agent of change in our lives and the lives around us. Our will, actions, and energy DO have an impact in our life journey. Just like the spells we cast and the intentions we put forward, our everyday commitment and actions to heal from whatever ailment, physical or non-physical, WILL direct us towards our highest good.
Stay safe, my friends, and be well.