APTA Session Recap: What We Say Feeds White and Grey

February 18, 2014
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“Brain‐Enhancing Strategies for Effective Therapeutic Communication”

Speaker: Karen Mueller, PT,DPT PhD

“Brain‐Enhancing Strategies for Effective Therapeutic Communication”

Speaker: Karen Mueller, PT,DPT PhD

brain-enhancing strategiesTherapeutic outcomes are as affected by the therapist’s ability to effect behavior change in their patients as by their clinical skills. However, many healthcare professionals don’t understand the basics. This session by Karen Mueller, PT, DPT, PhD focused on strategies to help improve patient care by examining principles from positive psychology and mindfulness to develop empathy for patients.

We know from research that feeling empathy from the healthcare provider is one of the key factors in patient satisfaction. We also know that a positive relationship between patient and provider is a key factor in improving patient adherence to treatment plans. How much do we think about the impact of the provider on the patient in daily care? Does a more positive and mindful healthcare provider get better results with patients?

The session started with some background research on positive psychology and mindfulness, with reference to renowned happiness researcher Martin Seligman, Director of the Positive Psychology Department at the University of Pennsylvania, in particular the impact of positive psychology in healthcare outcomes.  Unfortunately, our brains are naturally wired towards negativity, which may have been a primitive self-protection mechanism, and it takes a 3:1 ratio of positive thoughts to overcome negative thoughts so we need to actively cultivate positive thoughts to overcome this bias.

Why is this important? Positive emotions appear to create enduring personal resources including creativity, resilience, social relationships, and overall health and well-being.

“The way we choose our words can improve the neural functioning of the brain, in fact a single word has the power to influence the expression of genes that regulate physical and emotional stress” Andrew Newberg, MD

Next the session explored mindfulness, defined clinically as the “cognitive process of directing and redirecting focused attention on an internal physiologic process” and in layman’s terms of focusing and noticing the current experience without attachment, often by using the breath as a tool. Mindfulness has been studied for its impact in healthcare, particularly for managing chronic pain but patients using mindfulness techniques have also seen improvements in fatigue and depression.

Mindfulness has also been proven to be effective in therapeutic practice when used by healthcare providers. A study by Beach et all in 2013, showed that clinicians who practiced mindfulness had an easier time building patient rapport, more patient centered communication, and ultimately more satisfied patients.

Finally the session provided practical advice for people wanting to practice mindfulness when caring for patients:

  • Understand how you are feeling before you meet with a patient. Your negative emotions can have a big impact on them. If you are stressed or burned out, help yourself so you can better help your patients.
  • Speak wisely: express appreciation, speak slowly (slower speech enhances trust and reduces anxiety), speak briefly, check for understanding
  • Listen wisely: paraphrase, don’t interrupt, look at the patient, ask questions

The session provided a comprehensive high-level survey of the topic, and pointed to a wealth of information and research studies for those wishing to explore the topic further to improve their patient care.

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