Saturday, May 9, 2015

I know I have been to a Balint event if ...

This was originally written in November 2014:

I was sitting in the last row of the 5:30 AM shuttle from the Marriott Hotel to the Denver airport.  The van was almost full, and we were making one last stop.   Out of the fancy hotel entrance came a somewhat disheveled man in his mid-30’s, I’m guessing, carrying only a shopping bag from Walmart.  Although most people are dragging luggage, I really didn’t think much of it.  Until I heard two female
airline attendants (who were sitting in front of me) begin to make total fun of this Walmart shopper, criticizing his appearance, his ‘luggage,’ and his gait.  It was loud enough for everyone on the van to hear, and I’m sitting in the back thinking: “Wow,  you two are brutal!”   I was a little surprised at my reaction.  I’m not always so sensitive to how people who I don’t know treat each other.  And then I remembered - I’m just coming from the American Balint Society’s First National meeting in Estes Park.  


      It happens without knowing it and without intentionality.  And, obviously it doesn’t have to only be a Balint Intensive.  There are norms to all group gatherings. They may be implicit or explicit.  At Balint meetings - even International Balint Congresses or International Balint Leadership meetings - the norms have become implicit because they carry over from learning the Balint method.  These norms include confidentiality, ownership (speaking for oneself), respect for others' views, and honesty (speaking one's truth).  

     The result of these habits of self management yield an emotionally safe learning environment.  When we are confident that our group leaders will maintain this safe environment, we unconsciously relax our typical alertness and our defenses.  What is left is a heightened emotional sensitivity, and this adjusted state of being contributes to the quality of the work of the Balint group.  This is an unconscious relaxing of our typical state of awareness.  So, when we leave the event, we do not consciously revert to some default self protective, less sensitive 'normal' state of mind.  What sometimes happens is that we have an experience where we realize we are still in our "Balint" mode, and that awareness helps us ease back into our typical lives.
Join us whenever you have an opportunity to attend a Balint 'event.'  It could be a Balint Leader Intensive - training to lead a Balint group, or a Balint Weekend - a chance to present cases of patients who stay on your mind, or even the next Balint society meeting or an International Balint meeting - like the one scheduled in Metz, France in September 2015. You will begin to experience and appreciate what it means to be in a Balint state of mind!  You may also realize that this Balint state of mind is not our default, and then you might wonder what are the implications for learners who have to shift from their default state of mind to Balint and then back to default!
I wonder if there are implications for scheduling your local Balint group or for helping residents ease into the process.  I know I have to be very conscious about my own self awareness when I want to shift into a 'safe' learning mode.  What do you notice at the beginning of your Balint groups?  Is there anything you do to help this process?  How about a mindfulness moment?  Any other cues in addition to "Who has a case?"  I would be interested to hear others' experiences.  Thanks for sharing!

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