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Exploring The "S" In BPS (BioPsychoSocial)

Posted By Melissa Lewis, Wednesday, September 11, 2013


This is a post in a series of "blasts from the past". These classic posts will highlight issues that are just too important to collect dust in the archives. The series will be off and on for the next several weeks. Enjoy!

(This piece was originally posted on August 7th, 2012)

Engel’s BPS Model has served to guide the discipline of Medical Family Therapy, reminding us to assess, acknowledge and treat each of these systems and specifically not to ignore the psychosocial when working in a medical setting. However, what exactly is encompassed in the ‘social’ realm? For social workers it may include basic living needs or connecting patients to other social service agencies. For chaplains it may be connecting the patient to a religious/spiritual community. For marriage and family therapists, it can include working to improve family relationships. Each of these disciplines is addressing important needs of patients that have been proven to aid in more effective treatment, faster recovery, and increased patient satisfaction.

While these ‘social’ interventions are improving the health and well-being of patients, I would like to take a moment to dig a little deeper. I define the social aspects of life and health as cultural and relational ways of being. With that said, it is clear that ideas surrounding health, illness, cures, and healing will vary by individual and community. Yet we utilize ‘evidence-based’ methods that only allow for one way to see, cause and cure an illness which may be subjugating, and possibly ineffective, for the patient.
Melissa Lewis
What would you do as a MedFT if this were your patient?

Let’s continue the conversation through the comments you make!

Some interventions, such as Motivational Interviewing (MI), allow for patient goals and motivation to be accounted for. Further, Galanti (2004) suggests using the ‘4C’s (1. What do you call the problem/illness? 2. What do you think causedthe problem? 3. How do you cope with the problem? 4. What concerns do you have about the problem?) can help to gain a better understanding of the patient’s view of health and illness. Next, the information gained from this assessment can be incorporated into treatment recommendations which will respect the patient’s health belief system and worldview and, therefore, are more effective.

 

I argue that a deeper and often more difficult intervention is necessary to accompany the above-mentioned techniques. I believe that using cultural humility to interact with patients will allow for some of the best health care outcomes possible. Cultural humility is the constant examination of our own biases and perspective. The regular steps of cultural competence still remain: learning/reading about a particular culture, interacting with that culture, respecting cultures other than your own. However, an additional set of criterion are necessary to become culturally humble:

1) Acknowledge that you are on equal footing as their discussant/patient-There is no better way to conceptualize health (i.e., provider vs. patient beliefs surrounding health).

2) Be aware that the discussant lives their life by a set of rules related to their family, history, and environment, which are individualized, discrete and different from your own (Ethnorelativism).

3) Be aware of how your own personal life history over time effects your thoughts, beliefs and behaviors (strengths andlimitations) in relation to the discussant.

4) Acknowledge that one can never truly know the perspective of another individual or culture and that admitting your limitations opens the door to an honest conversation and does not diminish your legitimacy, credentials, or strengths and skills.

5) Does not search to become culturally competent at some distinct point, instead is continually learning about themselves and others through mutually beneficial conversations.

To demonstrate this point I offer a case example based on a real scenario:

A medical provider and her colleagues have been seeing a patient who has cancer (but has been in remission for 4 years) at 6 month intervals to ensure that the cancer (a rapid and progressive one) does not return. At the end of every visit for 4 years, the provider tells the patient and his family that he continues to be cancer-free and the family wails with joy and tears at the end of every appointment. The provider and her team have become frustrated with this response and do not understand the intense emotional reaction to what seems like a routine check-up that has resulted in the same positive outcome for many years. They hypothesize that there is some psychological trauma that the family has incurred due to this health experience that has resulted in some sort of psychological damage and are planning to refer them to psychiatric services. The patient is being seen at an Indian Health Service (IHS) facility in the Southwest United States and belongs to a Southwest tribe of Native Americans.

What do you think the provider and her team are missing from their assessment of the patient and the family? Using MI, the 4C’s, cultural humility, or your techniques to remain client-centered, what would you do as a MedFT if this were your patient? Let’s continue the conversation through the comments you make!

Reference: Galanti, G.-A. (2004). Caring for patients from different cultures. Third Edition. Anthropology of Consciousness, 15, p.66–67. doi:10.1525/ac.2004.15.2.66

Melissa Lewis is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. She received her Master's degree at Arizona State University (MFT) in 2007 and her PhD from East Carolina University (MedFT) in 2012. Her research area broadly encompasses the relationship between stress response and BPSS outcomes. Specifically, she studies the stress transmission model with military couples and is also evaluating integrated care interventions aimed to reduce BPSS health symptoms in both Native American and military populations.

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