Is Your Doctor Hurting Your Mental Health? Why You Need an Emotionally Intelligent Doctor
“If I was a broken clock, would you throw screwdrivers and bolts into my tool shed?”
– “Tool Shed” by Chaya Nemiccolo
What is emotional intelligence?
Patients can easily learn about the traditional aspects of their doctor’s qualifications with a quick internet search. However, it’s much harder to learn about a doctor’s emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is the ability to think and gather information about emotions, and then to use that information to achieve goals, which may include managing one’s own or others’ emotions, like staying calm or deciding how to share news.
Why does it matter?
Whether your doctor practices emotional intelligence will make an enormous impact on the quality of your care and mental health. A doctor lacking emotional intelligence can make you feel unheard, devalued, or even traumatized. Emotional intelligence in doctors is an absolute must, just as vital as the medical degree that allows them the privilege of being in the room with you.
What does emotional intelligence look like in action?
Neurologist Dr. Goslin is an expert at practicing emotional intelligence. The first time we met, she wanted to know all about me way beyond my ALS story. Then she asked me about my emotional state and medical goals. I told her I felt positive, ready to fight and survive this disease.
Her response? “I think that’s a great goal, and with the way research is going, we definitely have reason to hope.” She respected my feelings without making promises she couldn’t deliver. Dr. Goslin used emotional intelligence to achieve her goal of designing a treatment plan for me, not just my disease. Now every time I see her, I feel empowered. She is an important part of keeping my mind healthy.
In my blog, How I Live Now: Life with ALS, which I invite you to read, I recently posted the story of an experience I had with a surgeon who lacked emotional intelligence. The interaction triggered my depression and PTSD symptoms.
When I decided to write about emotional intelligence, I asked Dr. Goslin if I could interview her. She agreed with enthusiasm.
At the beginning of the interview, she said, “I think that emotional intelligence, as you have defined it, is one of the most important aspects of being a good clinician. Acknowledgement of the importance of emotions is part of treating the whole person and not just the disease.”
She went on to explain, “A lot of emotional intelligence comes from experience and a willingness to be open to emotions, both mine and others. When emotions arise that would typically be unpleasant or uncomfortable, I tend to allow them to flow over me. I sit with them without judging them as negative. I then use awareness of the emotions to help determine what the patient finds most important to have addressed and how best to do this.”
What she just described, a state of being completely aware of the present and all the thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations it holds, is called mindfulness.
Being a doctor who practices emotional intelligence sounds difficult, even draining, but Dr. Goslin can’t imagine treating her patients without interacting with their emotions.
“I believe that patients’ emotional response to disease and to their care factors heavily into how effectively they can be treated,” she said. “Fear and anger are two common emotions that occur in the setting of illness and that can impede medical treatment. Often when a doctor can recognize and address these emotions, roadblocks to treatment can be removed.
“I think that use of emotional intelligence results in a closer patient-doctor relationship and builds a level of trust and openness.”
How can you find an emotionally intelligent doctor?
Dr. Goslin, of course, has the answer. “Web-based assessments of doctors can reflect their emotional intelligence because… patients have greater satisfaction when treated by a doctor with emotional intelligence. Of course these assessments can be also be done by patients who are unhappy with a doctor for unrelated reasons, like the doctor wouldn’t prescribe narcotics.”
Keeping this in mind, I recommend using the following sites for finding reviews: healthgrades, RateMDs, Yelp, and Zocdoc. Once you have a list of doctors you like, call each doctor’s office or email the doctor directly to ask if he or she follows what I call “The Goslin Equation”: mindfulness + meditation.
Need help planning what to say in your phone call or email? Try this:
“I am interested in working with a doctor who practices emotional intelligence. How is emotional intelligence part of the way you treat patients? Can you tell me if you have had any mindfulness or meditation training?”
Note: ALS News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of ALS News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to ALS.