The illusion of deception


My boys and I were watching a magic show on television last week and the magician placed his assistant in a box.  She was standing with only her head, arms and feet showing.  The next part of the act drew the “oohs and aahs”, he cut her in half.  She continued to smile, she moved her arms, she moved her legs but her body appeared to be disconnected at the waist.  My oldest son asked me how the trick worked and instead of answering I turned the question back to him.  He had all kinds of theories from real magic, to robot, to computer generated.  It was an entertaining discussion.  I’m glad he didn’t press me for an answer because I’m not sure how it worked but I am sure it was an illusion, deception was involved, and the magician and his assistant sold it masterfully.

Deception by definition seems to be a bad thing but in reality deception and motivation aren’t that far apart.  My background is in Physical Therapy, I entered the health care field as a Physical Therapist.  By nature of my job I had the honor and pleasure of working with patients who had a physical ailment.  I always enjoyed helping people recover from the physical effects of stroke.  When I was a student in PT school I worked with a lady named Margaret.  She had a bad stroke and she wasn’t able to use her left arm or leg.  I was able to work with her over a three-month period and by the end of three months she was able to get up from a chair and walk across the room with a quad cane.  She made amazing progress.  I played a small part in it, she did all the work and her determination lead to her increased ability.

When I started working with her she was convinced she would never walk again.  I spent half of our session every day working to convince her that she would walk again but only if she believed it.  I was getting frustrated, as was she, so I talked to my instructor who gave me some advice I remember to this day.  She said “Sometimes you have to trick yourself into doing something before you can do it.  And if what you’re trying to do has never been done before, you must first deceive yourself into believing it can be done”.

I thought about that all night and the next day I learned a lesson.  I assisted Margaret into standing and we were in front of a floor to ceiling mirror.  I was standing behind her and she was facing the mirror.  I said “Margaret, I want you to close your eyes and concentrate as hard as you can on moving your left leg forward”.  She closed her eyes and she strained and I leaned her to the right, pushed on her left hip and her foot slid forward a couple of inches.  I then told her to open her eyes and look in the mirror.  When she did she could see that her foot had moved.  I knew her foot had moved forward because I shifted her weight and applied force to her hip but she believed her foot moved forward because of her effort.  From that day forward she began to make progress.

Nothing physically changed for her that day but she did gain hope.  Hope and optimism require some degree of self-deception.  She tricked herself into believing she could do something before she actually did it.  Once she began to believe she could walk she began to make real progress.

We treat patients with chronic conditions every day.  At times those patients don’t believe they can get better.  We have an opportunity to help them find hope and optimism and many times the first step is convincing them they can do something they don’t believe they’re capable of.  We have to help them achieve “self-deception” because what they believe will be exactly what they achieve.

About Craig Thompson

I am a young professional with two great sons, and I work in the healthcare setting. I am employed in hospital administration and serve as Chief Executive Officer at Golden Valley Memorial Healthcare in Clinton, Missouri. At GVMH we care for our families, friends and neighbors. We're committed to providing the safest, friendliest and most compassionate care to all we serve.
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