BACKGROUND: The main focus of the training of psychiatrists is on diagnosis and treatment based on the traditional doctor-centered approach to the psychiatric interview. Less attention is given to the correct handling of patients' emotional concerns, which is crucial for the patient-physician relationship, but also for improving diagnostic and treatment decisions. The aim of this study is to assess psychiatrists' responses to patients' concerns and worries. METHOD: 118 consultations, conducted by 10 residents in psychiatry with 20 simulated patients, have been coded using the Verona Psychiatric Interview Classification System. Lag1 sequential analysis and a multinomial logit regression analysis were performed to investigate the relationship between patients' expressions of concern and psychiatrists' subsequent interventions in terms of patient-centered skills. RESULTS: Compared to doctor-centered interventions, all patients' expressions of concern increased the probability of passive listening (odds ratios between 2.4 and 4.2). They also increased the occurrence of emotion focusing interventions (odds ratios between 3.3 and 1.7), which however remained rare (4% of residents' total responses). A small although significant increase in the likelihood of active listening expressions was observed as a response to two types of patient expressions of concern: statements of feelings (odds ratio 1.4) and expression of opinions regarding problematic psychosocial issues (odds ratio of 1.7). CONCLUSIONS: Young psychiatrists are good passive listeners but need to improve active listening skills which, together with emotion focusing skills, should be a major learning target in psychiatry. These patient-centered interviewing skills should integrate those traditionally used for attributing ICD-10 and/or DSM-IV categories.
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