Whole Person Coaching is renowned for the enhanced levels of trust and accountability it cultivates in individuals and organizations alike. But when integrated into medical, dental and other wellness-related practices, it becomes exponentially more powerful. Specifically, it enables the practitioner to effectively catalyze healthy behavior and foster, sustain and manage the broad spectrum of change that’s relevant to a patient’s overall well-being. As we’ve also seen, and will address in this case study, these impacts often reach far beyond the initial symptom that’s being treated, rehabilitating and reshaping numerous aspects of an individual’s life simultaneously.
It’s a process that begins with clearly-established, patient-initiated goals. From there, the practitioner advances individuals through a diverse set of challenging situations based on milestones that the patient has established.
With that in mind, I’d like you to meet Dr. Kim Kutsch. Dr. Kutsch has received a lot of attention in recent months – most notably on Facebook and other peer-to-peer networks – for the success he’s achieved among his patients, a number of whom came to him in dire circumstances (to say the least). Struggling for a way to help these people manage not only their immediate disease but their long-term dental health, he integrated the tools of coaching into his process. And the results have been astounding!
In fact, I challenge you not to be moved by the two stories he shares.
The knowledge and skills that accompany Whole Person Coaching cultivate lasting success in an individual by establishing realistic, sustainable goals the patients themselves identify as important. From there, the healthcare practitioner serves as a personal support system.
Meet Dr. Kim Kutsch. He’s been a dentist for more than 20 years and, in that time, has treated thousands of patients with varying levels of dental health. But Dr. Kutsch is a little different than other practices (for a couple of reasons). The primary difference is that, for the past 15 years of his career, he has specialized in dental caries – the disease known to cause tooth decay.
The National Institute of Health cites dental caries as one of the most “prevalent chronic diseases” worldwide – one that people are susceptible to throughout their lives. It takes hold in both the crowns and roots of teeth and can leave an individual severely marred, physically and emotionally, gradually eroding every tooth in their mouth, if left untreated.
“I realized that what I’d been trained to do, treating the signs and symptoms, was not actually treating the disease,” Kutsch says. “I wasn’t stopping the disease – at best, maybe I was slowing it down. So I was quite frustrated and didn’t feel like I knew enough about it.”
This drive led Dr. Kutsch to consult a number of mentors around the planet, a process that eventually made him an expert on the disease. Through these consultations, he was able to discover the best way to diagnose the disease and then remove it. He also found the best way to create a biometric for it and actually created products to address the bacterial component of the disease. So in the end, he had the best products, the best treatment strategies, and had everything in place medically… except when he got to the patient.
Despite the powerful risk-assessment, the best biometrics, and the best therapeutic regimen, when it came to having a lasting outcome for the patient, sometimes he was successful and sometimes he wasn’t.
Now here’s the second aspect that separates Dr. Kutsch from other dentists: he has leveraged the tools and techniques of coaching to treat dental caries with astonishing success. In fact, he’s become widely known for it throughout the dental industry and among patients (two of whom we’ll meet in just a minute). Even further, Dr. Kutsch has integrated coaching into the rest of his practice, dramatically improving the overall quality of dental health among his patients across the board.
“I came to coaching as a matter of need,” Kutsch says. “Because what it really came down to, in my mind, was that a large part of this disease is behavioral in nature. I was trained in dental school to identify holes in teeth and fill them. And I was trained well. I was trained to tell a patient what to do, brush and floss twice a day, and educate them on how to floss properly with those techniques. But what I wasn’t trained to do was create behavioral change in their life, their dental care, and have it be a sustainable habit. I had no clue how to do that.”
So Dr. Kutsch began to experiment. His first real contact with the realm of coaching arrived with his use of motivational interviewing. He incorporated that into the risk-assessment process to help him and his team identify where the patient was on a readiness scale, in terms of prospective treatment. But it still didn’t solve the problem. He continued to struggle for a way to support the process and help the patients that wanted to be successful at making a sustainable behavioral change.
That was when he decided to look into wellness coaching.
Citing that as the next logical step, Dr. Kutsch started by reading a couple books on coaching. Though they were helpful, the one thing they reinforced was that, to be successful in its practice, he was going to need training. And that’s when he came to us.
I have to take a beat here and share one of my fondest first impressions. Dr. Kutsch struck me right away as a committed professional who was putting his patients above all else. And with that goal in mind, he came to us – coaching book in hand – and said: “I want page 99.”
It’s a remarkable level of clarity that gives us both a laugh now.
“I was very clear about exactly what I needed,” Kutsch says. “I had radical clarity on why I was there and what I needed from the training, what I wanted it for, and what I needed it to do for me to help my patients.”
I assured him, he would learn those skills. But this is another interesting aspect of Dr. Kutsch’s story: he really internalized the content and processes, almost instantly, adopting them as a personal creed after realizing the far-reaching impact they could have on his life as well.
“By 9:00 AM that first morning, I turned to the person I was attending with and said ‘this isn’t just about my dental caries patients, this is about all my patients,’” Kutsch says. “By noon I was like ‘this isn’t about my patients, this is about me – my entire life – this is like a life skill’! So I think I had a kind of epiphany that first morning at training. And I did gain the skills to help my patients successfully.”
How does wellness coaching expedite and enhance treatment? By preventing the relapse of self-sabotaging behaviors that caused the condition in the first place.
With Whole Person Coaching, doctors, dentists and an endless range of wellness practitioners learn how to educate their patients and clients on the value of good health by eliciting the cooperative participation necessary to achieve it. It’s a twofold process. As a healthcare practitioner, you leverage your knowledge and experience to provide the best information. As a coach, you encourage the desire for change through supportive tools and techniques that result in the successful achievement of sustainable healthy behaviors.
As Dr. Kutsch shared with us, traditional dental care is a process that manages immediate symptoms, not lasting health. Simply put, it tells the patient what to do and is more akin to a one-way form of communication rather than the partnership coaching strives to achieve.
“Classically, dentists are trained to tell patients what problems they see and then let them know what to do, giving them two or three options,” Kutsch says. “But it’s really about telling the patient, maybe educating a little bit about the option, but it’s really about telling the patient what to do.”
We’ve found – regardless of the setting – a system of one-way diagnosis and treatment is ineffective and often causes patients to lapse back into the same self-sabotaging behaviors for three very specific reasons. It typically fails to account for:
- What the patient wants for their health, and why
- Behaviors or lifestyle choices that need to be addressed to realize goals
- A clear, sustainable, step-by-step plan to achieve greater and – most importantly – lasting health
Instead, healthcare practitioners with coaching training begin the process with a series of questions. Within this role, the practitioner/coach becomes a support member for the patient, returning the power back to the individuals themselves.
Common questions include:
- What would you like to focus on in terms of your dental health care?
- What’s most important to you about your teeth?
- How might I support you to address this?
- How would you like me to support you to accomplish this goal?
- How will I know that we’ve been successful in that?
- How will you feel when this is complete?
- What will you be able to do if this was no longer an issue?
“Instead of telling patients what to do, I started asking them what they wanted,” Kutsch says. “And that was a real life-changing experience for me! I learned that patients actually have ideas and opinions. And given the adequate amount of information, I believe now that they make the best healthcare decisions for themselves.”
With that in mind, let’s look at a couple examples from Dr. Kutsch’s practice.
Patient #1: “Bill”
When it comes to remarkable stories in the past 10 years, a patient we’ll call “Bill” is at the forefront of Dr. Kutch’s mind. Bill came in with severe dental caries. He’d been in an automobile accident 20 years prior, and was on daily medication (heavy narcotics) for migraines. A college professor, Bill is well-educated and engaging. But Dr. Kutsch notices that he covers his mouth with his hand when he speaks during the initial consultation because his teeth are so severely damaged from tooth decay.
Bill had lost a number of teeth and was about to lose more. It had now come to the point where the condition was having an impact on his quality of life: the disease had created enough shame and embarrassment that he was afraid to speak to students one-on-one. He also had anxiety about lecturing in front of a classroom of students because he was so embarrassed about the quality of his teeth.
When he first came to Dr. Kutsch, he didn’t initially seem like somebody who could be successful at saving his teeth. And Kutsch shared that with him. He walked him through the process of ‘what do you want to accomplish?’ And Bill was very clear about the goals he wanted to set for himself. He knew there were a couple of teeth where the prognosis was irreversible. But with the rest of his teeth, he was adamant that he wanted to save them, if at all possible.
Dr. Kutsch began by having an honest heart-to-heart conversation regarding exactly what the goals Bill had laid out would require. Interestingly enough, Kutsch first saw Bill before he had taken coach training and developed the skills that would later come into play. At the time, he felt Bill was headed for a complete set of dentures, and in fact told them that that was his best recommendation. It wasn’t what Bill wanted to hear. And Kutsch feels he was disappointed. But at the same time, Bill also had a very clear picture of what was needed for him to have an opportunity to save his teeth.
At the end of the consultation, Bill left. And he didn’t come back for an entire year.
But when he did come back, he’d lost 30 to 40 pounds. He’d stopped smoking. He was exercising daily. And he had taken himself off the narcotic medication he’d been on for 20 years.
“The medication was creating a dry mouth,” Kutsch says, “and, in my opinion, was probably the strongest risk factor he had for what happened to his teeth. So he took himself off his medication and discovered that he didn’t have migraines anymore.”
Bill had returned for another consultation on how to save his teeth. That was his primary goal. And now that the other risk factors were off the table, Dr. Kutsch was confident that, if he could make the other necessary behavioral changes in terms of diet and healthcare, Bill had a reasonable chance to save his teeth.
So in this second consultation, one in which Dr. Kutsch was able to leverage coaching, he and Bill established the necessary goals – goals around which Bill was incredibly determined and disciplined. In fact, he had actually created timelines for Dr. Kutsch to do the work, containing line-items like “If I can do this in six months, can we do this procedure?” and “If I can achieve this, in 12 months can we do that?” Kutsch agreed to the plan, as long as Bill met all of his self-established milestones.
In the end, not only did Bill meet the milestones, he got incredible results! He has been restored now for several years, and has an excellent long-term prognosis. He knows exactly what he has to do to maintain himself, and he’s been very faithful and successful in making those changes in his life.
“I literally don’t think I could have accomplished the outcome and the prognosis that I had for [Bill] without coaching skills,” Kutsch says.
Patient #2: “Cathy”
Another patient exhibiting a similarly advanced stage of dental caries is a woman we’ll call “Cathy.” Cathy had a number of additional risk factors that had contributed to her condition. She had been in an abusive relationship. And she had had a dependency on alcohol in the past. She had been clean and sober for more than three years when she came to Dr. Kutsch but was nevertheless in substantial pain as she had a very serious infection.
In addition to being high-risk, Cathy also suffered from an extreme dental phobia. As a result, her teeth were badly, badly damaged – to the point where she could barely keep a job because her teeth were in such poor appearance. Like Bill, Cathy held her hand over her mouth when she spoke, and suffered a tremendous amount of guilt and shame, particularly over her addiction. She saw how it not only ruined her smile, but her life as a whole. As a result, she was working extremely hard to get control of her life back – to become clean and healthy again.
“My heart goes out to people who seem to be struggling, but they’re trying really hard,” Kutsch says. “So here’s this person that, when I walked into the room, she started crying. That’s how we started.”
It’s taken a number of years, but by leveraging his coaching skills, Dr. Kutsch has helped Cathy see that, with the personal resources she already had, she had been off alcohol for three years. Talk about a behavioral change! He then explained to her that if she could do that, she could make whatever behavioral changes were required to create a healthier smile. And bit by bit, the supportive dental team was also able to help her overcome her fear of dentists and dentistry.
Cathy’s mouth was restored one tooth at a time. There were points where they’d gain ground, lose ground, gain ground back, and lose it again. And then came the moment of truth.
When they finished the treatment on her front teeth, they handed Cathy the mirror and she couldn’t look at her teeth – she was afraid to look at her teeth. She hadn’t looked at her teeth in so long, she was literally trembling and crying at the thought of having to look at them. Needless to say, the entire office was crying at that point.
“It was awesome! It was just awesome! Her smile today is beautiful, and that’s a life-changing experience for people, that they can smile and be confident in public,” Kutsch says. “I think she feels better about herself – and maybe it’s lightened her burden from some of the other things she has worked through as well.”
It was a cause for celebration, so much so that Cathy took her photos to Facebook and showed the world what had been and, more importantly, what was possible.
Wellness coaching extends the range of medically-related capabilities (not to mention that of the practicing clinic) through the incorporation of additional services that truly build upon existing work and expertise.
If you ask Dr. Kutsch today, he’ll tell you that Coaching changed what he does so completely, it’s hard for him to even remember how he used to practice. Even more significantly, it’s changed the way he sees himself, cultivating a greater appreciation for how we as humans make changes.
“I can take any patient and put dentures in their mouth. But if we haven’t helped them understand what caused their disease in the first place, a year later, all the work will be for naught,” Kutsch says. “They’ll be back one or two years later with decay all around those brand new beautiful porcelain teeth.”
“I see myself as a healer now, rather than ‘Dr. Drill-and-Fill,’ he says. “I see the fact that, not only am I able to help somebody get rid of their cavities and make everything look pretty, but I really have helped them make life-changing behaviors – things that have changed their entire quality of life and entire life-experience. I see myself now as more capable of really reaching out and helping somebody make a true difference in their life rather than just making their teeth look nicer.”
Moving forward, Dr Kutsch plans to put the whole process down on paper. He wants to take the experience and make sure his entire team is engaged in coaching so it becomes the culture in their practice – one with a common language they’ll share. So that any one of them, at any point in time, can help support a patient who’s trying to make changes in their life.
Once he’s accomplished that, his next step is to expand the process to the entire profession. Kutsch plans to teach other dentists throughout the world how to leverage the skills of coaching to facilitate a happier smile and foster an overall state of well-being for the patient.
“In my mind, it’s probably the most important link,” Kutsch says. ‘It’s almost ironic to me as I look back at how we were trained. It was probably the most important thing we could have been taught. And it’s the one thing we’re not taught. This has been such a life-changing experience for me and for my practice – I have to share it with the profession!”