Sometimes doctors doing nothing is the best treatment for health

After 10 years of treatment, Dr. Abigail Zuger decided the best thing she could do for her patient was nothing. Photo: ©

LOS ALTOS, CA, June 20, 2013 – In a recent New York Times column, Columbia University professor and infectious disease specialist, Dr. Abigail Zuger, shares a compelling story about a little known approach to treating sickness. Even though her technique may seem a bit unorthodox, it could very well point the way to better health for us all.

Zuger describes an experience she had with a patient suffering from multiple chronic complaints – sinus attacks, abdominal pain and nausea, to name just a few. After 10 years of pills and procedures, the only difference she noticed was that she and her patient were both 10 years older. At last, she decided that the best course of action was to do nothing.

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That’s right. Nothing.

Her decision was bolstered by a decades-old article from the Rhode Island Journal of Medicine called “The Art of ‘Doing Nothing’” by Dr. David F. Wehlage. The basic premise is that doctors have been trained to expect the worst from every symptom they observe, prompting them to do everything they can to treat it, even if it risks harming the patient.

According to Wehlage, sometimes the better approach is for the doctor to stop treatment altogether. The effect is twofold: releasing the patient from any undue dependence on their doctor and unleashing their innate problem-solving abilities.

“The art of doing nothing is learning to help by not doing or advising,” Wehlage wrote. In this sense then, “doing nothing” could actually be doing something pretty significant for the patient.

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In Zuger’s case, her initial course correction didn’t appear to make any difference. Her patient simply found other sources for her medication. Ultimately, though, she decided that the best thing for her to do was to see a psychiatrist. Her condition began improving. As Zuger describes it, “Each [visit] was a tiny step in a better direction.”

While a doctor’s decision to do nothing medically may prompt their patient to seek other, more effective, avenues to health, there’s growing evidence to suggest that a patient’s commitment to do something spiritually is an essential element of success.

Consider, for instance, Susan’s story.

Decades ago Susan was faced with a situation not unlike that of Dr. Zuger’s patient. After years of deteriorating health, endless medical tests, and countless prescription drugs, her doctors told her that she had untreatable stomach cancer and that there was nothing they could do for her.

Susan realized, however, that there was something she could do.

Drawing on her deep but (at least at the time) distant spiritual upbringing, she decided to give up on drugs altogether and set out on a quest to reacquaint herself with God. She had help along the way from a good friend and spiritual healer, whose primary role was to remind Susan of God’s unconditional and unfailing love for her. After about five months, she knew that she was cured.

This was over 20 years ago. Since then she hasn’t experienced a single symptom of cancer.

While we may not always welcome the idea of grabbing the reins of our own health care strategy, the effect can be quite exhilarating, not to mention health-inducing. Whether this decision is prompted by a doctor saying he or she can’t or won’t do anything more, or by some inner impulsion to discover what, for us, is a more effective and reliable approach to healing, doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that we maintain a willingness to consider all our options.

Even if this seems like you’re doing nothing, it could actually be the biggest something you’ve ever done.

Eric Nelson’s columns on the link between consciousness and health appear regularly in a number of local, regional, and national online publications. He also serves as the media and legislative spokesperson for Christian Science in Northern California.

This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

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Eric Nelson

Eric Nelson has been published and featured in numerous newspapers, online publications, and radio talk programs. He speaks from years of experience in the mind-body field, especially as it relates to health. In addition, he is the media and legislative spokesperson for Christian Science in Northern California and is a self-employed Christian Science practitioner. He’s also a huge baseball fan and loves riding his bike in the nearby Santa Cruz Mountains. You can find him at

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