Objective: Balint work in the United States has suffered from a lack of written material on how Balint group leaders structure and guide group process. This study identified characteristics of effective Balint group leadership by gathering information from experienced Balint leaders.
Methods: We used evaluations of the leadership methods used by 21 Balint group leaders assembled at an American Balint Society workshop to pilot test the Society's credentialing process. Free text and rating data from leader evaluation forms were analyzed using qualitative text analysis and factor analysis. We also conducted focus groups.
Results: Convergence was seen on several characteristics across all sources of data. Effective Balint leaders operate to create a safe environment and move the group toward a new understanding of a specific doctor-patient relationship. Specific leader behaviors include protecting the presenter from interrogation, encouraging open speculation by group members, avoiding premature solutions, and tolerating silence and uncertainty.
Discussion: Although Balint group leaders rely on behaviors common to other small-group methods, they create a space and purpose markedly different from that seen in other small groups in medical education. Balint group leaders model and create a safe environment for shared, creative speculation and a more empathic experience of the doctor-patient relationship.