Do You Like Your Doctor?

Why do we like some doctors better than others?

Jeannie Tsai and Tamara Sims, both associated with Stanford, propose it is because of our emotional fit.

Tsai and Sims looked at two preferred emotional styles: Positive and high energy, and positive and low energy.

High arousal positive states would be like excitement and passion. Low arousal positive states would be calmness and relaxation.

Tsai and Sims had shown that people prefer positivity from their doctor. But it turns out some people prefer excitement and some calmness.

Personally, one of the qualities of some long-term meditators that turns me off is their almost forced calmness. They are so low-energy that they put me to sleep. I have meditated for forty years, mostly with Autogenic Training, but I like energy and zest. If I thought mindfulness produced a general soporific state like that, I’d never do it!

Yet some people prefer that low energy style. (I wonder if some meditators act that way because they think it is the right way to act? Could there be an unwritten rule from some meditation teachers that one is supposed to be low energy? An unexamined presupposition, perhaps?)

Tsai and Sims take a matching philosophy in their study, but I propose another possibility. How about feedback? In a pre-visit survey, one could include items like this:

“At the end of my visit, I hope to feel more energetic” (4 = strongly agree, 0 = strongly disagree).

“At the end of my visit I hope to feel more calm and relaxed” (same 0 – 4 scale).

That gives the MD some hints about the strategy to take.

At a higher level, the question is whether the doctor is able to match the behavioral cues of the patient. That is almost second nature to psychotherapists and psychiatrists, but it might not be for medical colleagues in the other areas.

Why are we so interested in this? Simply because Tsai and Sims show that when our emotional states match our doctors’ states, we are more likely to carry out the homework that our doctors suggest, such as taking a drug or going for walks. When we carry out doctors’ orders, we do better.

Yet, other research shows that between a third of the time and half of the time, patients do not follow doctors’ orders. It is a chronic problem in medicine.

Frankly, it is also a problem in psychotherapy, when the counselor suggests a homework assignment and the client doesn’t do it. Almost everyone should be interested in this topic, and in Tsai and Sims’ research.

If you are interested, read the actual press release here.

What are your thoughts? Leave them below.




(After I wrote this whole post, I realized that the title might have made you think it would be some commentary on the Affordable Care Act. Sorry if there was any misunderstanding!)

By |2016-11-26T15:49:27+00:00April 3rd, 2015|Books, Psychotherapy|1 Comment

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  1. Lee Ann Austin April 3, 2015 at 5:01 pm - Reply

    My doctors are both highly focused, present in the moment, alert and skilled in reading my cues. I am also quite open and authentic about my emotional state so there is no guessing required. I prefer the presence of mind and emotional authenticity from my physicians. I have fired one doctor who was arrogant, egotistical and uncaring. I was 8 months pregnant at the time. I believe the doctor and the patient may be complementary or match with the same personality characteristics in a moderate degree. Too much of the same is out of balance and could become ” bright-sided” as some positive psychology teachers are calling people who are so focused on the positive that they overlook real problems.

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