Mungo arrived into our lives a few weeks ago... confused and scared, he had been rescued from a puppy farm, where he had spent the first five years of his life as a stud dog - without care, kindness or even a name of his own. His escape from this grim life was probably because he needed some expensive veterinary care, which he was unlikely to receive, unless he was surrendered into rescue - and fortunately for Mungo, this was the path that opened before him, thanks to the lovely folks at Friends of Animals Wales...
Following the removal of 33 teeth, funded by the wonderful Schnauzerfest charity, who supported all his veterinary costs whilst he was in rescue with FOAW, he then spent the first eight weeks of his new life with a kind and patient foster family, who began to teach him what it feels like to be loved...
Fast forward to the end of February, and this little boy had yet another huge upheaval when he moved yet again... this time to his forever home, with two little Lhasa sisters to show him the ropes. However, it is very clear to us that although he is completely free from that old life, the abuse and neglect has deep roots, and he is still beset by the demons of his past...
To begin with, he wouldn't eat. I wasn't too worried at first, because of the stress of his move, but after a couple of days he began to taste - and then he stood back and just stared at me. I suddenly got the message - he didn't like the bowl! I turned his meal out onto a plate, and he devoured it ravenously; so now, Mungo eats from a plate... and not just any plate - he has three rather beautiful Art Deco plates that we bought specially for him.
For all of us, it's a journey of interpreting feelings and needs... the tilt of an ear, the twitch of a tail or the droop of a head can tell us so much when we are prepared to pay attention. Unlike with people, there is no story to listen to, and be hooked by - we can only imagine what he has been through. Just like many people though, when we do not have the self-worth to believe that we deserve to have our needs met, it was clear to us that Mungo felt deeply unworthy of many things in his new life.
It's an incredible joy when he responds... the first time he came towards us and stood to have his head scratched... the first time he lay down next to us on the sofa... the first walk, with tail and ears up, and eyes bright... all of these things mark a small rite of passage for him - the sign that he has given himself permission to accept this part of his new life and, in doing so, hopefully also to release part of the old.
But here's an interesting thing. We chose his name because we liked it, and because it fit with our previous boy schnauzers (Theo, Hugo...). In an idle moment, I looked it up, to find out the meaning. It turns out that St Mungo is the patron saint of those who have been bullied, which is actually pretty perfect, and his feast day is 13 January. As Mungo didn't have a proper birthday either, that seems pretty perfect, too, just like Mungo himself...
Right, lovely dental folks - I'd like you to listen, please...
You know the scenario - it's 4.45pm on a Friday afternoon and a patient rings with severe toothache; they've had it for several weeks, and they are ringing now because they are "not sure they can make it through the weekend". A check on their records reveals two failed appointments for a filling which needed doing over a year ago and they have never been back in touch since then. Oh, and you also told them they needed to see the hygienist for regular appointments too, and they've never been.
Prevention. You teach it to your patients. All the time. Often repeatedly. At the end of the day, it's up to the patient whether or not they choose to take responsibility for their own dental health - as their dentist you know there is only so much you can do...
As a psychotherapist, this is what I see when I look at the dental profession: so many surveys measuring the catastrophic levels of stress in the profession; so many posts on social media complaining about mental distress; (and yes, it's bad - in many cases it's truly heartbreaking); and yet so many dentists are clearly not taking any responsibility for their own mental health.
Clients will often come to me because they have reached the psychological equivalent of the severe toothache patient described above; so we have to begin by firefighting the situation they have found themselves in... and just like that toothache, it's often been coming on for a very long time. Sometimes for years... and they've ignored the signs.
But here's the thing... Even if you are feeling absolutely fine right now, how many of you are actually taking an active responsibility in making sure you stay that way by maintaining your own mental health? (I know many of you are, which is fantastic - I also know that many, many more are not...) Are you even aware that there are very definite measures you can put in place to help prevent future burnout and chronic stress? Are you just like the patient with toothache who is aware that oral hygiene is probably something they should have been doing, and they are still not doing it? Are you willing to wait until you experience symptoms of chronic stress, mental breakdown and burnout before you decide to take some action?
Here are some suggestions, and my invitation to you is that you look into at least one of these right now (yes, even though you are feeling fine at the moment):
If you are feeling fine because you are already doing at least one of those, then that's marvellous - I salute you.
My mother always used to tell us that, "Something always happens when you don't do as you're told..." I've no doubt that's what you think when the irregularly attending, poor oral hygiene patient turns up yet again with an abscess. But remember the wise words of Virginia Satir, "Life isn't the way it's meant to be - it is the way it is. It's how we cope with it that makes the difference."
That difference has to start with you. And if you need some help to rediscover your own inner resources, please just ask.
As a psychotherapeutic coach I offer regular, ongoing, preventive, confidential support to dentists in the UK and abroad, as well as in-depth therapy when it's needed; just as you do for your patients. I also offer small group CPD courses specifically for dentists on how to change your relationship with stress.
In our world of fast-developing technology, and the need to stay connected with friends and colleagues through texts, emails and social media, the irony is that in our face-to-face relationships with others we are becoming increasingly disconnected. The need to check messages and emails as they arrive, to scroll through social media just to "catch up with what's going on" means that time spent together is often time spent on phones and tablets, and that means we are not "together" at all. In that distraction, we are not being present with our partner or family.
In my therapy practice, I am seeing increasing numbers of clients who are experiencing "relationship issues" for one reason or another...
Relationships are not about “getting it right”, they are about connecting with another person. The most important aspect of connection is the ability to listen… when was the last time you did that? Really listened, with total presence and with no other distractions at all?
Listening is a skill we all possess; it is a natural, innate ability. However, as we grow and develop, we learn different, adapted ways of listening, which require effort.
What can happen when you just listen…? Listen with no judgement, no effort, and without trying to offer solutions. Even if the other person is in a negative place – what happens if you just be with them, and hold the space, with compassion and empathy…?
Put your phones down, people, and just be present with each other... talk to each other... and, more importantly, listen... it's the biggest gift you can offer.
For any couples who feel they would like to spend some time together to reconnect, you may like to know that I offer a very special course... Because it’s only for one couple at a time, it’s tailored for the individuals concerned, and whatever you want to get out of the day. (You may also like to know that there is absolutely no mobile signal in our training and consultation offices at 'Planet Wykeham'!)
Self-Awareness and Relationships is an experiential workshop-style day, with some bits of NLP – understanding how we think, and how we each do that differently from one another; there are also some bits from other psychotherapeutic modalities too, because the day is all about having fun as well as learning about yourselves and each other within your relationship. It’s designed to be very much a future-oriented day, rather than looking back at whatever has happened in the past – it’s all about developing connection and understanding, and creating your future together.
If you'd like to know more, just give me a call and we can have a chat to see if this is something you'd like to do together.
...and the Canine Members of Staff