Balint Group Process: An Introduction to Balint Work

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One of the challenges of being a physician is that some patients bring with them such complex symptoms or life situations that physicians have difficulty letting go of their thoughts about such patients - long after everyone has left the examination room. This is evidence of unfinished business or an incomplete puzzle / missing piece or a disturbance in the relationship between doctor and patient. Often the nature of such uncertainty is unconscious.

Balint groups evolved from seminars held at Tavistock (post WWII) by Michael and Enid Balint to help physicians become more psychologically aware of the complexities in doctor-patient relationships. Each group is led by trained professionals who keep the focus on one case, encourage divergent views through speculation in the face of not knowing, protect members from being interrogated, encourage members to express their own thoughts and feelings, and insist on confidentiality and respect for all contributions. Because groups are structured for emotional safety, participants tend to reduce defensive patterns of interacting. This increases access to their own and other members’ emotions triggered by the case that is presented, providing clues or insight to the presenter about that challenging case or even others. Today, non-medical professionals, such as educators, also use Balint groups.

n their structural management of participant anxiety through explicit assignment of task, role and boundaries, Balint groups present an alternate use of group process for experiential learning in marked contrast to the minimal structure provided in Human Relations conferences. This workshop includes a demonstration.


Proceedings for Dialogues III, 2016 Symposia of the A.K. Rice Institute for the Study of Social Systems, Chicago, IL


Department of Family Medicine, Department of Family Medicine Faculty

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