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Respecting the Journey: Understanding Patient Readiness in Functional Medicine

When I first started learning functional medicine, I wanted to shout what I was discovering from the rooftops! Many of my nurse peers mention similar frustrations, and it can be so challenging to want better outcomes for people in our personal and professional lives that are not ready for change. Two things I find myself saying often are 1) we can't want it for them more than they want it for themselves, and 2) we must meet the patient where they are. Its a common struggle for functional nurses.....including me!

Discussing functional medicine with so many nurses and nurse practitioners each week, I've come to realize that empowering patients to make lasting lifestyle and nutrition changes is not just about offering expert advice; it's about meeting them where they are on their journey to better health. Recognizing and understanding a patient's readiness for change is a fundamental aspect of any successful functional medicine practice. In this blog post, we will explore the significance of ensuring patients are ready for change when approaching them about lifestyle and nutrition topics, and how this can lead to improved health outcomes and a more sustainable approach to wellness.

Understanding Readiness for Change

Patient readiness for change is a concept rooted in the Transtheoretical Model (TTM) of behavior change, also known as the Stages of Change model. According to this model, individuals go through various stages when modifying their behavior, ranging from pre-contemplation (not yet considering change) to contemplation, preparation, action, and finally, maintenance.

As functional medicine practitioners, it is crucial to recognize which stage a patient is in, as this influences the strategies we implement to support their health goals. Attempting to initiate drastic lifestyle and nutrition changes on patients who are not mentally prepared may lead to resistance and limited success.

Why Readiness Matters in Functional Medicine

Establishing Trusting Relationships: Acknowledging a patient's readiness for change fosters trust and open communication. When patients feel that their concerns and struggles are understood, they are more likely to actively participate in their treatment plans.

Personalized Approach: Functional medicine is all about personalized care. Taking readiness for change into account allows us to tailor interventions that resonate with a patient's unique circumstances and values, making the journey towards health more meaningful and achievable. One thing that has worked for me is having a readiness scale on my intake form. My new clients get to rate their willingness to make various changes (significantly modify their diet, take nutritional supplements, keep a record of everything they eat, modify their lifestyle, practice a relaxation technique, and engage in regular exercise), and I am then able to focus on their motivations and possibly address their reservations during our time together.

Setting Realistic Goals: Patients in different stages of readiness require different types of goals. For example, those in the contemplation stage may benefit from education and exploration of their health risks, while patients in the action stage may need specific, measurable objectives to achieve success.

Reducing Resistance and Dropouts: Patients are more likely to continue working with us when they are experiencing success in meeting the goals we establish together. By respecting a patient's readiness, we can minimize resistance to change and prevent premature discontinuation of treatment. This approach increases the likelihood of long-term adherence to lifestyle and nutrition modifications.

Strategies for Assessing Patient Readiness

Active Listening: During consultations, attentive listening is key to understanding a patient's concerns, values, and goals. Open-ended questions can help uncover their readiness to make changes and any potential barriers they may face.

Education: Awareness is everything! Provide evidence-based information about the benefits of lifestyle and nutrition changes, fostering a sense of empowerment and understanding in patients. This knowledge can motivate them to progress through the stages of change. Maybe they aren't ready for a big change today, but understanding the WHY may get them closer to readiness in the near future!

Collaborative Goal Setting: Involve patients in setting their health goals, ensuring they are achievable and align with their current stage of readiness. Celebrate their achievements, no matter how small, to boost their confidence and motivation.

Cultivate Support Systems: Encourage patients to seek support from family, friends, or support groups, as this can significantly influence their readiness and perseverance in adopting healthier habits. Ask them what might get in their way of success. Help them break down these barriers! Is it eating differently while feeding their family? Help them troubleshoot that so that they can be successful!

You Can Help Someone Change Their Health Story......If They're Ready!

Incorporating patient readiness for change into our functional medicine practice is an essential aspect of providing patient-centered care. Understanding where patients stand in their journey to better health allows us to tailor interventions that align with their unique needs, preferences, and goals. By fostering a collaborative and supportive approach, we can help patients successfully navigate the stages of change, leading to improved health outcomes and a sustainable path to wellness. Remember, change is a process, and as functional medicine practitioners, our role is to be compassionate guides on this transformative journey to optimal health.

One important thing I try to keep in many people need what we offer, but there are even more people that are not ready yet! When I worked in primary care as a nurse practitioner, it was challenging at first to decide when to share my functional medicine knowledge with a patient versus when I could spend that education time with someone that was ready to hear it. There are only so many hours in a day! One of my students recently commented that you can tell if they're ready by how they speak about their health concern. I think this is a good point! And in a fast paced setting like primary care, it is important to remember that not everyone is going to be ready to make drastic dietary and lifestyle changes. BUT some people are absolutely ready for the insights they need to move forward in the most informed direction. That is where functional nurses can shine! We just need to master the art of identifying those patients ready for change and helping others move closer to that mark through a trusting partnership where they feel safe, respected, and heard.


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