Balint Groups

A Balint group is a meeting to present clinical cases in order to better understand the clinician-patient relationship. Whereas physicians are usually trained to seek the “right” answer to medical problems, in a Balint group, the focus is on enhancing the clinician’s ability to connect with and care for the patient. A Balint group session begins with a member\’s presenting a case for the group to discuss. The group learns about the patient through the presenter’s story. During the facilitated discussion, the group members uncover different and new perceptions about the patient\’s and physician’s feelings and their experiences with each other.

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Balint Group seminars were developed by Michael and Enid Balint based on the application of psychological principles in a group setting for the purpose of developing an improved understanding of the doctor-patient relationship. This article focuses on the development and application of the Balint method to the training of resident physicians (particularly Family Physicians) within the United States. An effort is made to describe the practicalities of resident physician Balint training (e.g., size, frequency, duration of such groups), conceptual underpinnings (e.g., biphasic nature of patient identification, disease versus illness concept, transference/counter-transference, over-identification, under-identification, biphasic nature of physician empathy), and pedagogic goals (mastering empathic skills inherent in being a good doctor) of residency-based Balint groups. In aggregate, this article provides a useful framework for behavioral science educators interested in applying the Balint seminar method to resident physician training. The authors encourage both the continued study and educational application of the Balint seminar method in the training of physicians both within and outside of the United States.