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Natural Awakenings Hartford

Empowerment As Medicine

Jul 13, 2020 04:50PM ● By Lauren Young
Who is in charge of your life? Can you impact your life or are you just along for the ride? Dr. Julian Rotter is a psychologist who explored this concept back in 1954 and coined the term “locus of control” to describe it. 

Picture the locus of control as a continuum. One end is external and the other is internal. With external control, you feel that you do not have an impact on the outcomes in your life. It does not matter what you do, because you can control external events. Internal control, on the opposite pole, represents when you feel you can influence your life. The choices you make ultimately can impact your path and outcomes. Are you in the driver’s seat or are you a passenger in your life? 

Controlling Wellness

Locus of control has a particularly interesting interaction with people’s health. Can you impact your current health state? Are you in charge of your wellness? Research has revealed several important outcomes. Internal locus of control—being in control of your health—is strongly related to better outcomes. From cancer to cardiovascular disease, studies have shown being personally empowered about your health has a tremendous impact for the better. 

This is a different concept than placebo, which is often confused with locus of control. Placebo is believing your medicine is working and causing good outcomes while locus of control is the belief that you can make your health better. Both have been shown to impact health in a positive way. Believing you control your path and that your path is a healing one can powerfully improve outcomes. 

Medicine is a quickly shifting landscape. Access to information and misinformation is more prevalent than ever. This has an interesting impact on locus of control. Dr. Google helps us diagnose ourselves with catastrophic diseases and/or we find social media groups that recommend kitchen medicine or anecdotal remedies. It is easy to become overwhelmed with information, building an extensive list of possible solutions…or none at all.  Where do you start? While the internet offers resources, it doesn’t help guide your particular path nor does it strengthen your confidence. And if you already felt empowered about your health, it may not offer the most effective resources. 

Doctor as Teacher

The old-world model of the doctor as an authority figure who hands you a piece of paper that solves your issue is still pervasive. Although this attitude is shifting and certainly does not describe many physicians, this may be what you are prepared to experience. Unfortunately, this old model also feeds an external locus of control, where doctors are in charge of your health. Shifting the paradigm in medicine to your doctor becoming your teacher, coach and partner in health creates the opportunity to build an internal locus of control for patients. It helps them take their health back into their own hands.

What steps can you take to build a partnership with your doctor?

• The best way to shift any relationship is to start with yourself. Set up yourself and your doctor for success: Engage in your health. Ask questions. Invite discussion. Let your physician know you respect their opinion, but you want to understand how a medication works, what the alternatives and expectations are.  

• Become your own record keeper. Hold on to tests, imaging and notes from your doctor. This will help you feel more organized and empowered. 

• Education is a key component of building an internal locus of control. Learning and understanding how health conditions arise and how they can be improved will help dispel fear and worry, which rob us of control. 

Doctor as Coach

Researchers have found that internal locus of control positively impacts health outcomes, in part by being associated with improved health habits. It makes sense, doesn’t it? If you feel like you are the driving force in your health, won’t you make healthier choices?  

Focusing on empowerment when it comes to healthcare allows us to build our internal locus of control and feel more motivated and engaged. Research shows how important patients’ internal locus of control is and medicine needs to start focusing on engaging and educating patients. This can start for you with your doctor during your next interaction. 

Dr. Lauren Young is the founder and a physician at Collaborative Natural Health Partners, an integrative primary care center in Manchester with satellites in West Hartford and Stonington. For more information, please visit or call 860-533-0179.

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