I happen to really like my doctor. I think he is exceptional. And would you like to know why I think he is exceptional? Because he talks to me like an adult human with feelings and the capacity to think critically about my own healthcare. He does this while I am dressed and seated in his office, not while I am in a paper gown on an exam table. This should not make him exceptional. But it does.
My doctor acknowledges my humanity and makes sure I have a sense of agency. Agency is the capacity for people to have free will and to make individual choices. Systems of oppression rely on dramatically reducing the sense of agency of the people it oppresses. A reduced sense of agency is dehumanizing and disempowering. Although healthcare is in place to keep us feeling good and healthy and in charge of our bodies, how often do we feel a reduced sense of agency when dealing with our healthcare? More often than not.
While in name, we have ownership and control over the fate of our own bodies, so many of us, trauma history or not, feel disempowered inside of medical offices for a bevy of reasons. For folks living with trauma this can make basic self-care, like going to the doctor when you are sick, feel like an insurmountable challenge. When there has been trauma, there has been an inherent breach in our boundaries. That breach in our boundaries leaves us feeling disempowered. Restoring boundaries requires a lot of work as well as a sense of our agency. We all have the right to:
Be treated with respect.
Insist that people, including doctors and bodyworkers tell us, when and how they are going to touch us, each and every time.
Have a say in what is happening to our bodies during these appointments at all times.
Stop the appointment at any time and leave.
But too many of us feel like we don’t have these rights. We feel that in asking for these things we are asking for something above and beyond what we are entitled to. We feel we are asking for special treatment. Me too sometimes. But we are not. We are asking for what everyone deserves.
Every single person should feel agency over what happens to their body when they are at the doctor’s office, or when they choose to work with a physical therapist, a personal trainer, a chiropractor, or a massage therapist. And experts in the body should be sensitive to the power dynamic created by their role as an "expert." Practitioners should actively work to empower clients and patients by using invitational language, asking and waiting for consent every time they touch their client or patient, and providing clear explanations as to what they are going to do, when, and why.
You are more than a client or patient. You are more than a body. You are human and you are entitled to be treated with respect.