Bennington psychologist writes 'how-to' on important medical conversations

March 16, 2017 06:16 PM

Doctor-patient communication breakdown is all too common and for a host of reasons. However, good communication is key to getting the best treatment.

That's why a Bennington psychologist and writer created the "Difficult Conversations Workbook."

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"When you enter the world of illness, it's overwhelming. There's a foreign language that's being spoken and no one, no one has prepared you for this moment," explained Dr. Bernard Bandman, a psychologist from Bennington.

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Bandman and his wife, author Celia Engel Bandman, learned that early in their married life when their 3 ½-year-old daughter succumbed to cancer.

Celia believed something empowering had to come from that and it did. The couple's work led them create the Center for Communication in Medicine and to develop the "Difficult Conversations Workbook." It helps prepare patients to be their best advocate.

That includes patients like Kiki Smith. Although she's a midwife, she needed the workbook to guide her when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. It helped her craft the important conversations she needed, as a patient, to have with her doctors.

"I talked about myself. 'I need this,' or 'I want this,' or, 'This isn't feeling good to me, this isn't working for me.' I tried not to apologize or say things like, 'I know I'm bothering you,'" noted Smith.

The workbook also helps doctors better help patients by educating patients to the stress and time constraints facing doctors, encouraging patients to be prepared for their medical appointments.

"You need to be able to come in the door and very kindly, humanely say, I really need to talk to you, I need your help," noted Bandman.

He says the doctor has the medical expertise you need and the doctor needs your patient, personal knowledge.

"Silence is a big problem. We become silent because we're afraid. They become silent because they can't quite read our minds," he pointed out.

So we have to communicate, have the tough conversations at the outset and we may have to reset if the treatment direction changes. 

"What does this mean? How is this going to affect the quality of my life? What kind of support of care services could be of help to me to go through this," explained Bandman.

Smith says her experience and using the workbook deepened her empathy for her patients.

"It's looking at somebody and saying, 'I am here for you,' noted Smith.

"The Difficult Conversations Workbook," is provided free of charge through Dr. Bandman's Center for Communication in Medicine. He calls his initiative, "Speak Sooner."

More information:
Difficult Conversations Workbook


Benita Zahn

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