December 6, 2018
5:00pm to 6:30pm
Haines 279

The Conversational Analysis Working Group is pleased to present:

Caroline Tietbohl (UCLA): "Emotional Validation as a Last Resort for Responding to Problems With Uncertain Solutions"

Doctors have historically been trained to focus on the technical aspects of doctoring and to react to patients’ problems with scientific objectivity. With the rise of patient-centered care in recent decades, however, empathic skill has become more desirable and is increasingly being incorporated into medical education. Research about recommended approaches to clinical empathy highlights the importance of the doctor’s ability to explicitly acknowledge the patient’s feelings to make them feel understood, but identifying appropriate “empathic opportunities” is often challenging because patients rarely verbalize their emotions directly and spontaneously. Thus, it is often unclear when, how, or to whom doctors may be obligated to communicate empathically. Drawing on video-recorded primary care visits with older patients (aged 65 or older), I will explore one instance in which primary care doctors do express empathy; when there is no medical solution for the patient’s concern. These situations are particularly common among the elderly, whose health problems often cannot be cured and rarely have guidelines to help inform decisions about what should be done to help. I suggest that under these circumstances, doctors provide a form of empathy which I refer to as emotional validation. I will discuss how emotional validation is used as a last resort response for problems with no clinical solution and will examine how the design of emotional validation impacts its effectiveness.