The DO | Special Coverage | OMED 2012

Psychiatrist shares tips with physicians for managing anger

Multiple myths are associated with anger, stressed Jonathan D. Colen, DO, today during an OMED session sponsored by the American College of Osteopathic Neurologists and Psychiatrists.

Dr. Colen

“Anger in the medical setting is a huge impediment to quality patient care,” says Jonathan D. Colen, DO. (Photo by Patrick Sinco)

One myth is that anger is bad. “Anger serves multiple purposes when it comes to coping with stress,” Dr. Colen said, a certified anger management specialist. “It can give you energy when you need it. It can improve your communication with other people. And it can help you defend yourself against danger by sharpening your senses to look out for threats.”

In addition, some people wrongly believe that anger is caused by others. Another person can serve as a trigger for natural anger, but individuals choose whether to hold on to anger, amplify it or let it go, Dr. Colen said.

But the No. 1 myth is that venting anger is healthy. “Venting anger usually fans its flames because it keeps you focused on the perceived insult or situation that brought about the anger in the first place,” said Dr. Colen, a psychiatrist in Jacksonville, Ill.

He impressed on his audience that experiencing small amounts of anger is normal, especially when fearful, frustrated or stressed. Physicians need to recognize the early signs of anger in themselves, such as clenching one’s fists and rapid breathing, so they can identify triggers and keep their emotions under control.

“Anger in the medical setting is a huge impediment to quality patient care and treatment and team effectiveness,” he said. “Angry health care professionals are more likely to miss cues given by patients because they are so preoccupied with their own emotions. This creates misunderstanding and miscommunication, a leading cause of medical errors and legal liability issues.”

Dr. Colen shared six coping skills with session attendees:

  • Realize and accept that you are angry.
  • Breath deeply several times, and do not react immediately.
  • Visualize a calming scene.
  • Think about what may happen if you lose control.
  • Ask yourself, “What do I really need right now to be healthy in the long run?”
  • Do something positive with your angry energy.

Dealing with anger in others

Workplaces, including medical settings, are often fraught with anger catalysts, Dr. Colen said. These include perceived favoritism, unfair performance appraisals and insufficient resources. Lack of teamwork, inadequate training, and violations of trust also create ill will.

Dr. Colen pointed out that on average, physicians spend half their time each day dealing with conflict. “So learning how to live with conflict or decrease conflict is important these days,” he said.

To de-escalate anger in others, engage in active listening, Dr. Colen said. “Let the other person speak without interruption,” he said. “Use a calm tone of voice. Try to consider the other person’s point of view. Show respect and compassion. Be willing to compromise. And avoid telling the other person that he or she is wrong.”

Laurel A. Mueller, DO, attended Dr. Colen’s session to glean insights that will help her guide students, many of whom are frustrated by their heavy debt loads and high-pressure schedules and examinations. “My goal is to help students become good physicians,” she said.

A family medicine professor, Dr. Mueller intends to put Dr. Colen’s anger de-escalation tips into practice. “In medicine, unfortunately, there is a lot of arrogance,” she said. “I acquired some valuable tools today.”

One Response

  1. I love my DO on Oct. 10, 2012, 8:56 a.m.

    Quote: Dr. Colen pointed out that on average, physicians spend half their time each day dealing with conflict.

    This is a fascinating stat, and I wonder what study produced it and what kinds of conflict this includes. As a patient I thought that my DO spends more than half of her day speed reading charts and trying to recall everything she can about each patient in her over-booked schedule.

    So who or what is annoying her during the other half? Is it patients? Office workers? Administration? Insurance companies?
    Should I be asking her if this is a good time to talk?

    Seriously, a very interesting topic, and I hope to see a follow-up.

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