Jan 25, 2009, 08:39

By: Lon Woodbury

"Bedside Manners" is a term that comes from the medical field from a long gone era. The term brings about images of the "good" old days when General Practice Medical Doctors made house calls, and from being in the home knew how their clients lived, knew the whole family by name and were familiar with most of the life history of everybody in the family. The Doctor would sit by the bedside in the home of a sick patient and mix diagnosis and treatment in with comforting and reassuring talk about personal matters important to the patient. When they had good "bedside manners," the Doctor would be trusted as a friend and confidant as well as a professional.

With the tremendous advances in the life sciences during the last half of the 20th century, the medical profession, along with the mental health profession, began to see themselves as scientists. As a result, many of them adopted an objective perspective toward their clients, that is, they saw people more as patients to be treated by scientific techniques, rather than as humans needing healing. The days of the house call virtually disappeared, and patients started seeing their doctor only in the hospital or in his/her office during a quick session by appointment set long before. The art of the "bedside manner" seemed to be disappearing.

This trend seems to be reversing in the last few years, and I think for two reasons. First, I've seen several reports of studies that indicate Doctors with good "bedside manners" are less likely to be sued by their clients or their client's family. We've all seen anecdotal stories indicating this and it intuitively rings true. When something goes wrong, people are more likely to be hostile to someone they think is arrogant--the cool, distant and objective approach being interpreted as arrogant and uncaring.

Second, the research is clear that a patient's emotional wellbeing has a powerful influence on their overall health and ability to heal. By showing they knew the family and cared about the whole person, those old Doctors with good "bedside manners" knew what they were doing.

Basically, the term "bedside manners" refers to developing good and appropriate personal relationships with clients. It is now clear that success as a General Practice Medical Doctor depends largely on developing good positive relationships or appropriate friendships with their clients. Fortunately, it seems this perspective is making a comeback in the Medical Profession.

This lesson on the importance of personal relationships is one that needs to be learned by all professionals in all fields. It is especially critical to schools and programs in the residential parent-choice network. A large part of our work is to help our students learn how to make positive relationships, and to do that adequately we need to be able to emphasize those relationships in our own professional lives.

To a large degree, the success of a private residential parent-choice school or program depends on how well the staff develops a type of "bedside manners" with the parents who are considering them or have enrolled their children there. It simply is bad for business when prospective parents feel the admissions person is trying to "sell" them on their school or program. It is also bad for business when the parents feel the staff is just going through the motions and that staff members don't really know or care about their child.

Our network of private residential parent-choice schools and programs was started by visionaries who understood that developing individual relationships with students was the foundation of success in working with these struggling teens. To these visionaries, thinking in terms of "one-size-fits-all" was out, and the basis of their success was helping one child at a time, which included that same thinking toward the parents.

In the last few years, some school and program administrators have come to consider the admissions department as primarily a sales department. This mentality tends to undermine the success of those schools and programs because it lacks "bedside manners." A staff mentality of treating all children and families the same will also undermine success, both with the children and financially. This too is poor "bedside manners."

In these tough economic times, it might be that those who are good at relationships with parents have the competitive edge.


February 03, 2009

Absolutely accurate Lon. Those who violate the principle of good bedside manners are doing a great dis-service to their families and students.

Larry Stednitz

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