Misconceptions

Polan (1993) identified and addressed two common misconceptions about the biopsychosocial model. First, contrary to popular belief, the physician who is "humanistic" is not necessarily practicing biopsychosocial medicine. A physician can be ethical and caring but still neglect scientific knowledge from psychology, sociology, anthropology, and relevant data from the patient's life. For example, compassion by itself is of limited usefulness to a physician who needs an effective treatment plan for an asthmatic patient who smokes. Knowledge of the social environment and of the individual psychology of the patient is crucial.

The second common misconception is that people can be reduced to distinct biologic, psychological, and social categories, or that problems can then be expressed as a set of scientific principles from which diagnosis and treatment can be neatly derived. In fact, use of the biopsychosocial model increases rather than decreases the level of complexity required to understand patient status, introducing multiple avenues for intervention. Interpreting the biopsychosocial model as a new opportunity for reductionist thinking diminishes the power to inform more holistic treatment. Borrell-Carrio and colleagues (2004) proposed a biopsychosocially oriented clinical practice, based on self-awareness, active cultivation of trust, an emotional style characterized by empathic curiosity, self-calibration to reduce bias, cultivation of emotional sensitivity to assist with diagnosis and therapeutic relationships, use of informed intuition, and communication of clinical evidence to foster dialogue.

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