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Love, Boundaries, and the Patient-Physician Relationship

Neil J. Farber, MD; Dennis H. Novack, MD; Mary K. O'Brien, PhD
Arch Intern Med. 1997;157(20):2291-2294. doi:10.1001/archinte.1997.00440410017001.
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Physicians often use their relationships with patients to promote specific therapeutic goals. Because of their personal histories, values, and biases, patients may react to physicians in ways that inhibit or enhance the relationship. The feelings that are aroused may induce physicians to become overly distant, engendering patient and physician dissatisfaction, or to become overly involved emotionally, which can have serious psychological and clinical consequences. We explore how a balance between clinical objectivity and bonding with the patient is optimal and achievable. The nature and origin of personal boundaries are described. Boundary transgressions on the part of the patient are discussed, and the means of preventing transgressions by both patients and physicians through medical education, the process of self-awareness, and an exploration of family-of-origin issues are proposed. Through attention to communication with patients, the physician can maintain an empathetic yet objective relationship with the patient.

Arch Intern Med. 1997;157:2291-2294


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The American Medical Association is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education to provide continuing medical education for physicians. The AMA designates this journal-based CME activity for a maximum of 1 AMA PRA Category 1 CreditTM per course. Physicians should claim only the credit commensurate with the extent of their participation in the activity. Physicians who complete the CME course and score at least 80% correct on the quiz are eligible for AMA PRA Category 1 CreditTM.
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