Communicating With Your Body

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Medical Professionals learn, observe, and use the body language of their patients to diagnose and treat what is really going on. Body language, medical history, and verbal communication combine to present a more accurate picture than any single element doctors use to diagnose or treat.

As a therapist or as a physician, we listen to the story you are telling as you describe what hurts in your life. We ask about how long, how intense, how painful etc. your symptoms are. We “read” your body language to observe or understand what else may be going on. Then we consider the medical data from charts and tests and symptoms that you are describing. We combine all this information to determine a diagnosis or treatment plan for you.

All of us have learned to read body language some. In order to use it as a deliberate tool for medical care we need to be better trained and more focused on how to understand it.

There are courses where you can be taught how to read body language. Physicians and therapists need to take such courses but any of us might benefit from learning more deliberately how to understand body language.

If you watched the TV show “Lie to Me” you have seen some of the ways to read other people’s body language. You can isolate some of this data and learn to use it to more accurately understand what people really mean when they communicate. Your body and your mind will respond to these cues even when you are not paying conscious attention to them.

I use body language cues to identify what messages I am hearing from my patient so that I can know I am hearing them accurately. I don’t do this to be aggressive or to challenge but in an effort to understand so I can be helpful.

In this week’s healthcast, we discuss some of the universal cues from body language to discuss different ways to understand and clarify what the actual message is. For example if you cross your arms, does it mean that you are resisting and avoidant, or does it mean that you are cold or uncomfortable, or in pain. The difference depends on the environment and on what you are trying to communicate. Another example is when you nod your head yes or no and that nod does not match what your words are saying. How do we understand the accurate message? Finally, we must always be aware that body language cues are not consistent throughout all cultures. Examples of touch, spatial distance, and power cues are among the things that change.

When you are reading body language you must always consider the context, the culture, and the environmental factors.

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