Support Groups: Expression & Perception

By | November 6, 2011

If I say apple but the patient either hears (representing an error in transmission) or thinks (representing an error in transduction) orange, the quality of the ensuing communication will be greatly degraded.

I would like to touch on a classical philosophical problem the symbolic nature of communication and see how even here there are important differences between doctor’s offices and chronic pain support groups. Since people cannot communicate directly, such as is commonly the case when digital files are copied from one computer to the other, we use a complex set of symbolic objects.

Starting with the case of verbal communication, when I have an idea that I want to communicate to a patient, using a process of expressive transduction, I select words, verbal symbols, to express my idea. I transmit these symbols to the patient either through speech or a written document. Even assuming that the step of transmission proceeds flawlessly, there is still the potential problem receptive transduction. There is no guarantee that the words have exactly the same symbolic meaning for the patient that they do for me. In common parlance, “What is said is not always exactly what is heard.”

In support groups, not only are the set of communication symbols, words, usually simpler, the multi-centric nature of the communication has inherent error correcting properties. If communication breaks down for any member of the group, the resulting explanation, amplification or discussion is likely to help clarify the issue for the entire group. In addition to this, a great deal of communication in support groups is nonverbal and again inherent error correcting properties are present. If a piece of transmitted information was supposed to have an emotional dimension as well as a factual one, the facial expressions and body language of every member of the group can help assure that the correct mental images have resulted from the spoken words.

Tomorrow we will take a look at the emotional dimensions of conversations both in doctor’s offices and in support groups. We will look at how this aspect of communications can either enhance or degrade the communication process.

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