Communication skills training and clinicians' defenses in oncology: an exploratory, controlled study



Objective: The underlying mechanisms modifying clinician's communication skills by means of communication skills training (CST) remain unknown. Defense mechanisms, defined as psychological processes protecting the individual against emotional stress, may be a mediating factor of skills improvement.

Methods: Using an adapted version of the Defense Mechanism Rating Scale—Clinician, this study evaluated clinicians' defense mechanisms and their possible modification after CST. Interviews with simulated patients of oncology clinicians (N=57) participating in CST (pre-/post-CST with a 6-month interval) were compared WITH interviews with the same simulated patients of oncology clinicians (N=56) who did not undergo training (T1 and T2 with a 6-month interval).

Results: Results showed (i) a high number (mean=16, SD=6) and variety of defenses triggered by the 15-min interviews, (ii) no evolution difference between groups, and (iii) an increase in mature defenses after CST for clinicians with an initial higher level of defensive functioning.

Conclusions: This is the first study describing clinicians' defensive functioning; results indicate a possible mediating role of defenses in clinician–patient communication. Copyright © 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.