All doctors, nurses and other medical professionals strive to minimize the suffering of their patients. Witnessing a patient in pain, especially a child, pulls on the heart strings of all involved. However, when the patient's pain comes from their emotions, it can feel very uncomfortable and overwhelming. Parents and physicians alike are quick to say “Don’t cry" when a child expresses a negative emotion by crying. Unfortunately telling a child (or adult) not to cry or express a negative emotion does not help them cope effectively and could lead to additional concerns over the course of their medical care.

Help patients cope with distressing emotions


From the trauma informed framework, it's key for physicians and nurses to work towards reducing both the physical and emotional distress of their patients.  What does this look like at the bedside? Researchers Dr. James Tulsky, chair of the department of psychosocial oncology and palliative care at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and Dr. Kathryn Pollak, a psychologist working with Dr. Tulsky, explain that patients often feel vulnerable expressing these negative emotions and physicians can help patients using the following suggestions:


1) Name the emotion for patient: “I can see that you are scared.”

2) Follow with praise: “Given all that you are going through, I’m impressed that you are still able to help out your sister.”

3) Reassure the patient you’re here for their course of care: “No matter what happens, my team and I will be here with you throughout this whole process.”

4) Ask them to explain more about what they’re feeling: “Tell me more about that.”


What results can doctors and nurses expect when following these suggestions? Improvements in “abilities to both acknowledge and respond when their patients express feelings like pain, fear, and anger”, according to Tulsky and Pollack, which ultimately lead to better communication and care. 


To learn more about addressing your patient’s distress, register for the free D is for Distress course! Find more way to help your patients cope with their emotional distress on our FacebookTwitter, or Pinterest pages!