The Doctor, the Task and the Group : Balint Groups as a Means of Developing New Understanding in the Physician-Patient Relationship

Sammanfattning: The general practitioner has a central position in the health care system, but demands have increased and there are signs of exhaustion in the corps. Patient-centredness is beneficial for the patients and probably for the outcome of health care. In Balint groups general practitioners study and gain further understanding of the physician-patient relationship by means of the participants’ own experiences. This thesis aims at studying experienced effects of Balint groups on the working life of general practitioners. General practitioners with and without Balint group experience are compared by means of a questionnaire, using statistical methods. General practitioners with Balint group experience are interviewed. Both these studies show positive experiences of Balint group participation in the physicians’ working life in terms of feeling of control and satisfaction, and on relations to patients, particularly patients with complex problems. A new instrument for measuring physicians’ degree of patient-centredness is presented. It can be used in groups of physicians to evaluate training programmes or by the individual physician to detect decline in patient-centredness as an early sign of burnout. Balint groups are viewed critically in interviews with Balint group leaders, focussed on difficulties and dropouts from the groups. Balint groups are found to fit into modern theories of small groups as complex systems, submitted to group dynamics that are sometimes malicious. Professionally conducted Balint groups seem to be a gentle, efficient method to train physicians, but with limits. Participation of a member demands a stable psychological condition and an open mind, and obligatory Balint groups are questioned. The thesis concludes that Balint groups are generally beneficial for general practitioners’ working life as a means to enable the physicians endure, even thrive in their job. The method facilitates development of new understanding of the physician-patient relationship with possible positive effects for the patient as well.