Denial in the medical interview. Recognition and management

JAMA. 1994 Dec 14;272(22):1777-81.


Denial is a psychological defense in which the individual repudiates some or all of the meanings of an illness, thereby warding off an awareness of painful thoughts and feelings such as fear, grief, depression, and anger. Although it is often viewed as a problem, denial may at times be a healthy and adaptive response to illness. In the medical interview, denial may be exhibited by the patient, the physician, or both. Not all instances of denial can or should be addressed within the interview. The decision to address denial can be made based on how adaptive the denial is, what kind of psychosocial support is available to the patient, and how well prepared the patient is to deal with the fears that underlie denial. In those instances when denial should be addressed, the interviewer can use techniques of clarification, confrontation, and interpretation.

MeSH terms

  • Communication
  • Denial, Psychological*
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic*
  • Medical History Taking*
  • Physician-Patient Relations*