Diagnosing patients’ shame during doctors’ visits

    Have you ever left a doctor’s office feeling ashamed? Maybe it was a question about your weight, your mental health, or how much you drink.

    About 50 percent of patients experience shaming encounters with their physicians, according to a University of California psychology professor who has been studying this issue.

    How patients reacted to their shame varied.

    “Some people said this motivated them, generally had positive reactions,” said Christine Harris. “Others were very angry, angry for a long time, and sometime just never went back to see the physician.”

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    Her latest research delved into who reacts in which way.

    “If people feel like this means ‘I’m a bad person, I’m fat, I don’t have control,’ then they have more negative reactions, they withdraw,” she said. “But if they make the attribution that ‘I have done a bad thing, but I’m not globally a bad person,’ that seems to be associated with trying to improve.”

    Doctors could take this into account in their interactions with patients, she said.

    “Keep the focus on the behavior, what can you do to change these behaviors, and then map out exactly what the patient can do,” Harris suggested.

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