This is Dawn she does…… Health!

Posted on 13th January, 2016

Since the beginning of my career I’ve struggled to find a suitable peg on which to hang my hat. As one of the first exercise and health professionals out there it was difficult not to be perceived as an exercise instructor (I’ve failed my exercise to music qualification twice!) I have worked in clinical services, Cardiac and Pulmonary Rehabilitation, I have worked in the community as an Exercise Referral Officer and Active Lifestyles Manager all of which for people outside the industry aren’t really clearly defined careers.


This issue with my professional identity has been compounded in the last 18 months. I’ve been working with a national charity supporting their work on health and wellbeing, particularly mental health and emotional wellbeing. I’ve been lucky enough to get out and about a lot delivering training, meeting groups within the network, attending regional and national meetings and conferences.


It’s become a bit of a standing joke that my introduction is, as the title of this blog suggests, generic to say the least! “This is Dawn, she does….. Health!”

The response to this is generally that sweets get swiftly removed from the table tops, same for biscuits, fizzy drinks anything perceived as “bad” by whichever un-expecting group I stand in front of. I’ve even been known to alter lunch menus, with one group being told that they would have been enjoying Pizza for lunch, but when they realised I’d be there this swiftly got changed to a “healthy” option of rapidly drying sandwiches and the obligatory fruit selection. I’m surprised I get asked to go anywhere.


So as this scenario repeated itself time and again, I began to give more thought to how health is being perceived.


If I were to ask you what makes you healthy how would you respond? I generally hear responses such as “well I should do more exercise / eat more fruit and veg” or “I need to drink less / smoke less / stop smoking / eat less red meat (or is red meat good for you this week?!). These responses make me sad. Why? Well, to me they seem to be laden down with guilt and shame.

My musings are that “health” gets a bad rap because of the guilt and shame responses it can invoke. Imagine now if I asked you instead what makes you happy? Me? Time with my god-daughters, walking our dogs on the beach, feeling grateful for the people I have around me. No shame, no guilt around that question!


In the work I do, when I ask people what their idea of health is, it tends to reflect the medical model of health; Doctors, Nurses, Hospitals and Treatments, this is correct in one sense. However it is equally as important to consider the broader definition of health, this is not merely the absence of disease or illness but good levels of social and mental health as well as good physical health. It’s about being able to feel you have an identity, a place to feel understood and cared for and skills to know that when something difficult happens in life you can help yourself cope and find a way to understand, accept and move onto feeling better about things, feeling hopeful about your future.


I recently got asked to answer the question “What do you find most rewarding about the work you do?” I was surprised when I reflected on my response, which was this; Ensuring people I work with are heard, understood, valued and (perhaps for the first time) believe in themselves a bit more than they did before. No mention of health, why was that?


I think it is because if as a health professional you go in with the aim of helping someone with a particular issue, say stopping smoking, this can blinker you to the wider things impacting on someone. Unfortunately many health services are set up to function in this way, to address a specific behaviour as opposed to understanding an individual.


Just by having the label of “health” attached to me I feel I can be alienated from connecting with people. A great example being the different response I get when I go to work with a group in my manicurist tunic and am “Dawn who does nails” as opposed to “Dawn who does health” I will get peoples life stories in the time it takes to do a buff and polish where there would have been silence had I been perceived as a health professional.


What I’m hoping for by sharing some of these thoughts? Maybe it is an appeal to other health professionals to stand equal to those who we work with, not in judgement? To recognise when we get frustrated by someone not doing something which will clearly benefit them, to be mindful of shame and guilt in ourselves and others and to not compound these feelings? I also think that these things need to be heard and taken into account by those responsible for creating health services, to ensure they are not created in a way which may do harm to those who engage with a service, particularly where behaviour change is a cornerstone.


Health Wellbeing Happiness Zest Enthusiasm Energy Gratitude Humour Playfulness Honesty Authenticity Genuinness Kindness Generosity

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