The anatomy of belief – how do you view dentistry?

What are your beliefs about dentistry and what impact do they have on you? Jane Lelean looks at the cause, effect and meaning of these thoughtsWhat are your beliefs about dentistry and what impact do they have on you? Jane Lelean looks at the cause, effect and meaning of these thoughts.

We have been living in very interesting times since late March. Still we do do not know how it is going to continue or what it will become. Putting down their instruments and handpieces has had a detrimental effect on many dentists and dental clinicians.

Some have questioned if they want to continue to do dentistry and others have questioned who they are. For example, in some cases the question: ‘Who am I without dentistry?’ has undermined a person’s sense of identity.

Incredibly, I have been working with a client who has seriously considered suicide because they were unable to do dentistry in the way they had done previously. Without dentistry, or the prospect of dentistry, they had no idea who they were or the purpose of their life.

Level of purpose

For you, is dentistry a capability or an identity, a behaviour, or a purpose? Do you do dentistry, or are you a dentist?

Over this period, I have noticed the clients who hold beliefs about dentistry and themselves at a level of identity or purpose have found the last few months more difficult, unsettling, or mentally disorienting, than those for whose belief about their relationship to dentistry is of behaviour or capability.

If your belief is ‘I am a dentist’ rather than ‘I do dentistry’, how easy have you been to live with, for your family or even your team?

Another client story; a principal dentist put his team on furlough. He continued to expect them to be at his beck and call, emails, phone calls throughout the day and night. He was in the practice seven days a week, unable or unwilling to allow his team to triage. If not triaging, he was attending webinars. Every moment of every day was preoccupied with dentistry.

The fixation on dentistry caused frequent arguments at home, sleepless nights, not to mention the toxic environment that was created for the staff, which had its own knock-on effects, into each of their home lives (as an aside, 50% of the team has resigned since March). Without dentistry, this dentist felt worthless.

Your beliefs

In contrast, those, including principals, who hold the belief ‘I do dentistry’ seemed to have found it much easier to do what needs to be done, write, train, and implement standard operating procedures, personal professional development, enhance the team and practice communication, triaging, treatment when appropriate, retaining the ability to step away and turn off.

But let me be clear that this is not a case of one belief is right and the other wrong. The curiosity I invite you to have is what belief do you hold and does it serve you?

Beliefs are incredibly powerful; they unconsciously control your mind and your actions. Beliefs either serve you or sabotage you, help or hinder you, nurture or neglect you. What are your beliefs about dentistry, what impact do they have?

Whatever beliefs you hold about yourself and dentistry, if they serve you, support you, and nurture you, hang on to them and strengthen them. However, if you recognise that the beliefs you hold about dentistry, sabotage you, hinder or neglect you, I encourage you to work with someone experienced in this field and change them to ones that support you.

Over this period, I have met (virtually) with several dentists who have had held unsupportive beliefs such as:

  • ‘I should never have become a dentist’
  • ‘I need to find a new career’
  • ‘I can’t do endo’
  • ‘I will never be good enough’
  • ‘Dentistry is a dangerous and risky career. I want to leave.’

A belief has a very specific anatomy. When together, we unpick the structure, challenge the presuppositions; the client can, if they choose, reformulate their belief.

Figure 1

Challenging meaning statements

Examining three of the previous examples, can you see that rather than being a full belief, the statements are only the final section, meaning statements? Meaning statements often masquerade as full belief statements, which is why they should be challenged (Figure 1).

As you read these belief structures, do you think the meanings were valid? What do you think would be more appropriate interpretations of the cause and effects? Fortunately for the clients, they also recognised that the meanings they had created were unsupportive and choose to put a different interpretation on the cause and events.

‘I should never have become a dentist’ evolved to ‘I love helping my patients and I can only serve them well if I reduce my daily patient numbers, I will explore converting my list or joining a private practice’.

‘I can’t do endo’ became ‘I have limited skills, knowledge, and experience in endo. I’ll do some hands-on courses that teach essential endo before I do any more molar cases’.

‘Dentistry is a dangerous and risky career. I want to leave’ metamorphosed into ‘dentistry is a rewarding and safe career when I give my patients enough time to express their desired outcomes, fears, timescales, financial commitments, and I give myself plenty of time to plan, train, deliver fabulous dentistry, communicate and have a completely patient-centred approach, so the patients can make the best choices.’

As you, and your neuro-linguistic programming trained coach, bring your unconscious belief structures into the open, challenge them; what new meanings will support you more effectively, both now and in the future? 

This article first appeared in Dentistry magazine. You can read the latest issue here.


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