What helps people change?

That’s a question that’s preoccupied me since I graduated from naturopathic college and set up my own practice, at the tender age of 23. Young and naive as I was, I thought that all I needed to do was explain to my clients that their habits of living were causing their health problems, tell them what they needed to do in order to get well again, and they would waltz merrily out the door, implement all my suggestions forthwith, and be healed from whatever ailed them.

It didn’t take long for that illusion to come crashing down. I quickly discovered that change is hard for most people, most of the time. Even if a client fully understood my explanation of why she was sick; accepted the rationale behind the treatment plan; believed that it would work for her; and really, truly, genuinely wanted to implement said treatment plan; that didn’t automatically translate into her doing it.

The frustration of knowing that I could help people only if I learned how to help them change their habits drove me to undertake further qualifications in counselling and EFT, as well as a heck of a lot of self-directed study of best practices in behaviour change, all of which dramatically increased my success rate with clients.

It seems I’m not the only one who’s been obsessed with learning how to help people drop their bad health habits and implement good ones. Dr Hans Diehl has devoted his professional career to studying the dynamics of health behaviour change, and developing and refining programs to facilitate the adoption of simple healthy lifestyle practices that make dramatic differences to people’s well-being, and even their life expectancy.

He opened his presentation at the 2015 International Plant-Based Nutrition Healthcare Conference with some slides documenting the changes in death rates from several conditions in the Finnish province of North Karelia, after a comprehensive government-sponsored initiative to change the health practices of this population.

By way of background, in the late 1960s and early 1970s North Karelia’s rate of cardiovascular death was so shockingly high, that this largely rural, socioeconomically disadvantaged region had been dubbed ‘The Valley of the Beautiful Widows’. So many men in the prime of their lives were being laid waste by heart attacks, strokes and other cardiovascular causes of death, that the locals launched a petition to get help.

In response, The North Karelia Project was launched in 1972. Government health and human services departments, local GPs and nurses, community organisations, schools, NGO’s, local media, supermarkets, the food and agriculture industries were all recruited, and innovative media campaigns were developed in order to achieve widespread change in the population’s health-related behaviours, in particular smoking, intake of vegetables, and consumption of animal fats.

Article from Hopewood contributor Robyn Chuter

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