A9. The Power of Negative Words

Sometimes words might have an unintended harmful effect.  To evaluate the health of my patients’ lungs, I often ask them to undertake lung function testing.  As part of this procedure patients are instructed to blow out as hard and as fast as they can into a mouthpiece which is connected to a large machine.  The respiratory therapist who usually conducts this testing is supposed to enthusiastically encourage patients to perform this test.  It is not uncommon for me to walk by the pulmonary function laboratory and to hear the respiratory therapist yell, “Blow!  Blow!  Blow!” as the patient is exhaling into the machine.


On one occasion I was coaching 12-year-old Dan about the importance of blowing with as much effort as possible into the pulmonary function machine.  “I want you to blow really hard,” I said.  “Let’s see you blow so hard that you blow your guts out.”  I smiled.


Dan smiled.


“Let’s get started,” said the respiratory therapist.


Dan inhaled deeply and started blowing very hard into the machine.  “Blow!  Blow!  Blow!” yelled the respiratory therapist.


Dan blew very hard into the machine.


I smiled.


Dan blew even harder into the machine.


“Keep going!  Keep going!  Keep going!” yelled the respiratory therapist.


Dan kept going.  Then he blew out his guts as he threw up all over the floor. 


The respiratory therapist handed me a towel.  As I was cleaning up, I reminded myself that a physician should be very careful about what he says to his patients.


Hence, I learned that words not only have an important effect for me as I put my thoughts into writing, but they also have an impressive effect on patients.  However, I had little inkling of the possible tremendous magnitude of this effect.




Ran D. Anbar, MD is the founder of Center Point Medicine in La Jolla, California.  Before founding Center Point Medicine, Dr. Anbar was Director of the Division of Pediatric Pulmonology at the SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, NY.  For more information about Dr. Anbar and the medical counseling and hypnosis services provided at Center Point Medicine, please contact info@centerpointmedicine.com.

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