The art and science of diabetes education: a culture out of balance

Diabetes Educ. Jan-Feb 2008;34(1):109-17. doi: 10.1177/0145721707312398.


In the past 20 years, behavioral science has helped create a growing body of theoretically derived, evidenced-based approaches to diabetes patient education. Health care professionals in all disciplines are being required to demonstrate that their practice is evidence based. For diabetes educators, behavioral science is the source of much of that evidence. However, effective diabetes education involves a combination of art and science. Establishing a therapeutic alliance with patients is an art. Diabetes educators must have the interpersonal skills, values, and personal traits needed to cultivate relationships with patients that are characterized by trust, respect, and acceptance. They must feel and be able to express compassion, empathy, and warmth. However, if someone outside the field were reviewing diabetes education evaluation research, they would probably conclude that diabetes educators are interchangeable cogs in a wheel. The positive impact of the therapeutic alliance is well documented in the counseling, psychotherapy, education, and nursing literature. However, evidence to support the important role of the diabetes educator's values, interpersonal skills, and ability to establish a therapeutic alliance with patients is absent from that literature. Valid and reliable measures used to document the impact of interpersonal skills counselors and teachers could be used in diabetes education with little or no adaptation. The evidence and tools exist; we now need to determine if the will exists.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Attitude to Health
  • Counseling
  • Diabetes Mellitus / parasitology
  • Diabetes Mellitus / rehabilitation*
  • Humans
  • Patient Education as Topic / methods
  • Patient Education as Topic / standards*
  • Professional-Patient Relations