In 2009, eight GPs met with me to share and reflect on their difficult experiences with patients. Nine years later, five of the original doctors still meet monthly to bring their painful and difficult consultations. What is it that the Balint Group does that keeps the doctors coming back?

The group shares in a respectful and supportive way what has got in the way of having a meaningful, productive consultation. We meet to hear, reflect and speculate on what may be happening in the meeting between the doctor and the patient for it to stick troublingly in the doctor’s mind. This may be anything from feeling uncomfortable, dissatisfied, worried or disabled, to the sinking feeling of being left humiliated or angry, or with the anxious, niggling thoughts that don’t go away after some challenging consultations.

Judy Griffiths

How does it work? In each meeting members bring two confronting consultations – each lasts for ¾ hour. First we’ll hear the situation that is on a doctor’s mind.

And it will be told to us just as it tumbles out, without preparation or notes so we get the feel of how it was to be in the consulting room.

What happened and what is the doctor left with? A the doctor sits out of the circle and listens, the group reflects on how this scenario affects them as either the doctor or the patient in that consultation.

As the group shares their differing ways of resonating with the issues, there is often a lessening of tension and a deepening of understanding about the human behaviours triggering the situation. The presenting doctor returns to the discussion in the last 10 minutes of the case to face things again with less intensity and a feeling of thinking more reflectively again. S/he is able to recognise more about what s/he had become caught up in and brought to the group.

Over time in a Balint Group, as the trust of group members deepens, there is greater depth to what can be shared without the fear of people undermining or labelling each other, and the resulting discussions become enriched, diverse and generative in what is brought up for speculation, reflection and exploration. It can be both a companionable and liberating experience for group members.

Balint group members can claim the higher CPD points for attendance when they participate in setting and reviewing the annual outcomes.

Ed: To learn more about Balint Groups see http://www.balintaustralianewzealand.org/

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