Physicians who acknowledge abuse and confirm patient's worth are most helpful

In a study of how physicians helped victims of domestic violence, UC San Francisco researchers found physicians who provided validation -- acknowledged that the abuse had occurred and confirmed the patient's worth -- had a positive impact on patients who had been abused.

The study found validating messages such as "battering is wrong" and "you deserve better treatment" not only provided relief and comfort to women, but also helped them realize the seriousness of their situation and helped them move toward safety. Those messages were effective even if women didn't disclose directly to physicians that they had been abused.

"Physicians often don't intervene with victims of domestic violence because abuse is hard to talk about or because they don't believe that they can help," said Barbara Gerbert, Ph.D., UCSF professor and chair of the division of behavioral sciences, department of dental public health and hygiene in the UCSF School of Dentistry. "This study shows that physicians don't have to know for sure if the patient's underlying health problems are caused by abuse to help them."

The study, published in the summer issue of Women & Health, describes from the perspective of domestic violence survivors how physicians helped the women improve their situation and thus, their health.

Gerbert and co-researchers interviewed 25 Bay Area women who had been in a physically abusive relationship with an intimate partner and who had a positive health care encounter with a physician.

Study findings show women and physicians often sidestepped or "danced around" talking about the abuse, said Gerbert. Physicians and patients demonstrated a variety of behaviors during health care interactions. In some instances physicians asked directly about the abuse and patients directly disclosed. In most cases, physicians either probed about the abuse, dropped hints, or ignored or failed to recognize signs of abuse while patients either dropped hints of abuse, lied,

Contact: Lordelyn P. del Rosario
University of California - San Francisco

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