The impact of Balint work on alexithymia, perceived stress, perceived social support and burnout among physicians working in palliative care: a longitudinal study
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University of Medicine and Pharmacy “Carol Davila,” Bucharest, Romania (Faculty of Medicine, Department of Medical Psychology)
Online publication date: 2019-02-20
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Ovidiu Popa-Velea   

University of Medicine and Pharmacy “Carol Davila,” Faculty of Medicine, Department of Medical Psychology, Bd Eroilor Sanitari 8, 050474 Bucharest, Romania
Int J Occup Med Environ Health. 2019;32(1):53-63
Objectives: Physicians working with palliative patients have a substantial risk of emotional exhaustion because of their daily confrontation with suffering and death. Common concerns include alexithymia, high stress, low perceived social support and a greater burnout risk. This longitudinal study aimed to evaluate the effectiveness of Balint training in preventing the development of these symptoms in these medical professionals. Material and Methods: The design of the study was longitudinal. A group of 69 physicians working with palliative patients from 5 county hospitals in Romania (33 men, 36 women) participated in the study. Out of them, 31 joined and systematically attended a local Balint group whereas the others did not participate in such a group, either during the study or previously. They were given, both at the beginning (2015) and at the end of the study (2017), 4 psychometric instruments assessing alexithymia (Bagby’s Toronto Alexithymia Scale), perceived stress (Cohen and Williamson’s Perceived Stress Scale), social support (Duke-UNC Functional Social Support Questionnaire) and burnout (Maslach Burnout Inventory). A split-plot ANOVA analysis was used for evaluating the significance of Balint groups participation, with gender and age considered as auxiliary variables. Results: In the study group, Balint training significantly improved the scores of global burnout (F(1, 64) = 25.104, p < 0.0001), 2 of its components (emotional exhaustion (F(1, 64) = 18.390, p < 0.0001) and depersonalization (F(1, 64) = 10.957, p < 0.002), alexithymia (F(1, 64) = 3.461, p < 0.0001) and perceived social support (F(1, 64) = 57.883, p < 0.0001), but not the scores of perceived stress and low personal accomplishment. Gender had an additional contribution in decreasing alexithymia (F(1, 64) = 7.436, p < 0.009) and increasing perceived social support (F(1, 64) = 15.426, p < 0.0001), with higher effects in men. Conclusions: This study points to the potential usefulness of Balint training in addressing alexithymia and burnout, and in improving perceived social support among physicians working with palliative patients. As the Balint method is easily understood and does not require special investments, it could represent a cost-effective instrument of addressing job-related psychological risks. Int J Occup Med Environ Health. 2019;32(1):53–63
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