Your Depression Treatment Can Be Affected By Your Doctor's Personality

Jerry Kennard Health Pro
  • Everyone knows that the doctor-patient relationship is a fundamental aspect of good care and treatment. Yet, the beliefs, attitudes and values of your family doctor could negatively affect their behavior when it comes to assessing your mood symptoms in relation to depression.


    Professor of psychiatry Paul R, Duberstein, Ph.D., of the University of Rochester Medical Center, has recently conducted research into physician personality as part of a broader series of projects examining the doctor-patient relationship.


    Most people rely on their family doctor to both recognize and treat the symptoms of mood disorder. Because of this Duberstein decided to carefully train six female actors how to present with symptoms of major depression or adjustment disorder with depressed mood. Consent was then obtained from physicians involved in the study although they were unaware when they might meet the actor-patient. A total of 46 physicians and 88 actor-patient visits were studied.

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    Researchers then analyzed a variety of audiotapes and medical records taken at the time of the actor-patient consultations. Physicians were then categorized according to one of three dimensions: dutifulness, vulnerability and openness to feelings. A dutiful doctor is reliable and conscientious. Vulnerability means anxious and the tendency to feel moody and unsettled when under stress. Openness indicates a greater level of empathy towards the experiences of the patient.


    According to the report, "doctors high in dutifulness are more likely to document a depression diagnosis but ask fewer questions about depression. They are no more (or less) likely to ask about suicide that less dutiful peers." The report went on to state that time factors probably explained why they asked fewer questions about depression and particularly suicide, which physicians could fear would lead to an extension of the visit.


    Keeping the patient at something of a distance is a theme to have emerged from previous research. Dutiful doctors explore a patient's life circumstances and psychosocial issues quite well, but they tend to avoid involving the patient in discussions about treatment options. A similar approach was observed in ‘vulnerable' doctors.


    When it comes down to who patients prefer the most, those doctors classified with high levels of openness but only average levels of conscientiousness are more likely to be trusted by patients.


    Professor Duberstein believes that doctors who are reluctant to inquire about depression and suicide should use a screening questionnaire or turn to a mental health specialist in preference to overlooking the situation.



    University of Rochester Medical Center (2008, September 24). Personality Can Hamper Physicians Assessment of Depression. Science Daily.

Published On: September 26, 2008