Doing No-Thing For Your Patient Is Not Doing Nothing

Do No-Thing [illustration: Chris Gash]  Doing No-Thing: a 2-Way Exercise

The art of doing no-thing with a needy patient is different from doing nothing for a needy patient. It’s an exercise in self-restraint for the doctor, and an exercise in self-discovery for the patient.

Dr. David F. Wehlage, a psychiatrist in Indiana published The Art of ‘Doing No-Thing in the Rhode Island Journal of Medicine back in 1986. It was a look at what may be the “most subversive activity, or inactivity, in modern medicine,” writes Abigail Zuger, MD.  (Zuger writes about Wehlage’s technique in her article “Don’t Do Something; Just Sit There.”) Wehlage advocated doing no-thing with particularly needy patients to activate their own natural problem solving capabilities.

Not unlike the art of parenting a bored child by telling them to try a little no-thing, Wehlage’s technique appears to be a form of reverse psychology, activating an individual’s instinct to rebel and go in the absolute opposite direction – which is brainstorming with oneself.

Namely, Wehlage says doctors occasionally need to write their own prescription which states in no uncertain terms that the patient should leave the office empty-handed (without yet another prescription, “weighty pronouncements,” or even placebos).

His philosophy of Doing-Nothing after periods of Doing Everything in Your Power include:

  • Do not presupposed that people want something done
  • Do not do something for people they can do themselves
  • Do not presuppose there is something to offer

The question is, can this be applied not just to the relationship between doctor and patient or mother and child,  but also friend to friend? Does it work when there is no clear parental figure in the relationship?