Identifying and addressing difficult emotions during patient visits can be hard, but ignoring them can hinder the healing process and complicate your relationship with the patient. These five tips can help you recognize and deal with issues bubbling beneath the surface:
1. Note nonverbal cues. Posture, eye contact, tone of voice, or facial expressions can illuminate how a patient is actually feeling.
2. Bring up what is happening right in front of you. If a patient displays a negative emotion, either with nonverbal cues or out loud, name it and ask if the patient wants to talk about it. Not addressing it could make the visit deteriorate.
3. Make gentle probes. In asking about difficult emotions, approach the situation with sensitivity by speaking softly and gently and giving the patient space to discuss his or her emotions.
4. Verbalize empathy. Use empathetic statements, such as “That must be very difficult for you,” to communicate that you are with them in their frustration, pain, or anguish, and to help them calm down and feel more secure.
5. Don’t take it personally. It’s normal to feel stressed or frustrated by a patient’s negative behavior, but do not escalate the problem by reacting poorly. Even if the patient is reacting to a mistake or unintentional misstep you’ve made, taking a professional and nonreactive approach can help resolve the situation.
Adapted from “What to Do When Emotions Run High in the Exam Room.”
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