Support Groups: The Nature of Communication

By | November 3, 2011

Sometimes there are structural barriers that inhibit effective communication even when both parties are highly motivated.

In yesterday’s blog we spoke about some of the social aspects of support groups. Today I would like to look at the nature of information exchange in these groups and the many ways that it differs from the discussions that patients have with their physicians.

Even with the best physicians and the best of intentions there are structural barriers to effective communication. Many of these barriers result from differences in perspective between patients and physicians. Firstly, physicians are accustomed to discussing material with which they are intimately familiar without giving enough consideration to the unfamiliarity of the information to the patient. Many times consultations must be spread over several days simply to allow the patient to assimilate the vast amount of information being presented.

When chronic pain patients discuss treatments among themselves their levels of knowledge are usually comparable and their use of technical and everyday language is again more likely to be similar. In addition, discussions with a physician are usually one to one conversations, whereas the discussions in a support group are usually one to many, many to one or many to many. It is much more likely that potential misunderstandings between the two primary discussants will be challenged by a third party, than in a physician patient conversation.

Tomorrow we will look at differences in focus and how that limits effective communication in one instance and facilitates it in the other. We will also look at how perspective even determines the topics of conversation in many cases.

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