The Power of Bedside Manner on Pain

New research shows how a doctor’s beliefs and attitudes affect patient outcomes

Ashley Abramson
Elemental
Published in
5 min readOct 21, 2019

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Photo: Runstudio/Getty Images

WWhen he practiced as a psychotherapist, Luke Chang, PhD, now an assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences at Dartmouth College, frequently used his body language and tone of voice to develop trust and rapport with his clients.

Whether he communicated warmth through his posture or exaggerated his expression to show shock or surprise, Chang knew his “bedside manner” would play a role in his clients’ emotional healing process.

“It’s been known for a while that nonspecific factors like expectations and the therapeutic relationship contribute a lot to treatment outcomes in the context of mental health,” Chang says. “And while there’s some evidence that these things probably matter for physical health as well, it’s been studied even less.”

To get a more concrete answer about the effects of a doctor’s attitude on a person’s well-being, Chang and his colleagues conducted a study that was published this month in Nature Human Behavior. Their findings confirm Chang’s hypothesis: If providers believe in a treatment’s effectiveness and express that belief through facial expressions, their patients could experience less pain.

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Ashley Abramson
Elemental

Writer-mom hybrid. Health & psychology stories in NYT, WaPo, Allure, Real Simple, & more.