The Empty Vessel: a Personal Philosophy on Ideal Patient Care
“Clay is shaped into a bowl, but it is the empty space that makes it useful.”
I have always believed that the best approach to patient care is to embody that vessel which is the correct one for whatever is presented. As we are taught from the beginning of and thematically throughout our educational careers, each patient’s constitution and presentation is as unique as the individual; this understanding is part of what makes our medicine so powerful--meeting the patient and their symptoms where they are. As an extension of this diagnostic and treatment approach, my method for ideal patient care comes through creating emptiness and holding space for the patient to fill as they do. However, not every patient requires the same ideal vessel; I believe part of the art of being a physician is to understand how to embody the right vessel for each unique person.
It is my belief that holding space for any patient, with the end goal of improving their health and well-being, is based upon the following four principles:
Presence is non-judgmental mindfulness in practice with another human being: remaining clued in and available on every level to whatever comes forth in any moment, creating an environment of ease. Educated knowledge is the information we garner from continuous learning endeavors. Reliability is showing up in any relevant way the patient needs on their journey (within the realm of healthy boundaries). And, nurtured trust is a combination of the above in conjunction with understanding the nature of each patient and whatever environment they require for their greatest ease. As an example, some patients feel most comfortable feeling like they are having a conversation with an old friend, while other patients feel most secure knowing the facts and data of their case and leaving personalization alone.
Embodying an empty vessel that shifts its shape depending upon with what it comes into contact is an ideological concept. In realistic practice, this amounts to maintaining an internal practice of relinquishing attachment, clearing one’s mind, remaining open, actively practicing compassion, opening one’s heart, and always approaching with love. From my near-decade in clinical practice, I have found that my method for embodying an ideal physicianship is quite similar to what I do in order to just be the best human being I can be.
Michelle M. Bilodeau, MAOM, L.Ac. is a physician of Eastern Medicine who has served in Olympia, WA for almost a decade. Her practice focuses mostly on psychological, neurological, and endocrinological issues as well as the overlap, therein. She takes an approach to physicianship that utilizes the strengths of both Eastern and Western medical perspectives. In addition, as a practitioner and teacher of Sheng Zhen Wu Ji Yuan qi gong and Zhong Tian Yi Qi meditation for 15 years, she believes that the mind and body are innately and inseparably connected; neither can heal without the other.