What is a Balint group?
What is a Balint group
Balint groups were created in Great Britain in 1950 by the psychoanalysts Michael and Enid Balint, who were keen to help general practitioners to achieve a deeper understanding of the emotional content of the doctor-patient relationship and thereby improve the therapeutic potential. Later on these groups are disseminated in Europe and the rest of the world, occupying an important position in the clinical practice and training of health professionals and gradually extended to other professional areas such as social workers, educators, teachers etc.
Participation in a Balint group provides the professional with a protected space to think about difficult cases that create in him/her a feeling of uneasiness, helplessness or a blockage. Through the discussion he/she is given the opportunity to explore and find new approaches to the relationship with the patient. In addition, as research shows, participation in Balint groups helps to prevent professional burn out and provides a supportive framework where one finds solidarity and overcomes the feeling of loneliness which normally accompanies the clinical work.
Balint groups consist of doctors, psychologists, social workers, nurses or teachers and one or two coordinators, who have the necessary training. The number of people forming a group varies from 6 to 10. Groups meet at regular periods of time, usually once a week in order to monitor on a continuous basis the progress of the patients but also to allow the members of the group to feel comfortable with each other. The meetings last 1,5 hour and have a specific structure for which are responsible the coordinators of the group.
The main objective of the group is to think and discuss about the clinical case in which the clinician-patient relationship causes concern or creates emotional obstacles. Through the group discussion, the clinician enriches his/her way of thinking, enhances his/her understanding and makes the most of the relationship with the patient in a manner that is beneficial both to him/herself and the treatment.
Starting the process the leader asks “Who has a case?” and a member of the group presents a case. The other members listen without interrupting the presentation and when the presentation is over they ask any clarifying questions they might have. After the questions are answered, the members express their opinions and emotions created by the history of the patient, and make assumptions about what might have happened in both the patient and the clinician, as well as in the relationship between them. The presenter at this stage listens without intervening, thus having the possibility to process what is being said and gain a new perspective of the relationship with the patient. At the end, the presenter comes back in the discussion to express his/her thoughts and emotions in relation to what was said by the group.
Even though this method was based on psychoanalytic ideas regarding the dynamics of human relations, the work of the group is concerned with the day-to-day clinical work of the members and therefore the language used in the group is simple and doesn’t require any specialised knowledge. The freedom of the expression of ideas and emotions in the group and the sincerity of the members are essential characteristics of the process. While participants may convey their personal experiences, if they seem relevant, unwanted and disturbing questions or comments on personal issues addressed to the presenter are discouraged. The obligation of confidentiality and respect towards every presenter and abstention from criticism, are the main elements of the group function and are safeguarded by the group and the leader.
Benefits from participating in a group
The first and main benefit for a group member is to have a safe place in which he/she can speak about the interpersonal aspects of his/her work with the patient and to be given the opportunity to be heard with understanding by others. Many participants say that they gain better control of their work and increased satisfaction, since the deeper understanding of the relationship helps them find more effective ways of managing emotional tensions and difficulties that may arise in the therapeutic relationship.
About Balint Groups, Balint Society of Australia and New Zealand, http://balintaustralia.org/about-balint-groups/
Introduction to Balint Groups, Work and How to Survive it podcast, http://thinkingspaceconsultancy.com/balintgroups/
Salinsky, J. (June 2009). A very short introduction to Balint groups. Retrieved from http://balint.co.uk/about/introduction/
Salinsky, J. (2003). Balint groyps and the Balint method. Retrieved from http://balint.co.uk/about/the-balint-method/