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Maintaining face in the presentation of depression: constraining the therapeutic potential of the consultation

[journal article]

Pollock, Kristian

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Abstract This article discusses the concerns of patients diagnosed with depression to preserve 'face' in social and medical encounters. The findings are from a qualitative study of patient and GP accounts of the presentation, recognition and treatment of depression. Medical consultations are difficult encounters to accomplish successfully, especially for patients, who often strive to protect their privacy and personal integrity through the maintenance of face. Face work reveals the concern of participants to contribute to the success of the consultation as a social interaction. Patients' strategy of maintaining face helps to account for the commonly reported underdetection of psychosocial distress in general practice consultations. Many people do not regard the experience of psychosocial distress as an appropriate topic for medical consultation or scrutiny. In this case, face work can function as a means of maintaining privacy and resisting medical diagnosis and intervention. The concept of face has relevance in other areas of clinical care, including chronic and enduring pain, functional disorders, medically unexplained symptoms and even terminal illness. Consideration of face work reveals the extent to which the pressure to contribute to the success of the consultation as a social encounter may constrain participants' capacity to realize its therapeutic potential. The extent to which clinical interactions are governed by social etiquette also helps to explain the continuing inertia of the formal health care system and the difficulty of changing the ways that patients and doctors communicate with each other, and of increasing patients' involvement in medical consultations.
Keywords depression
Classification Medical Sociology; Social Psychology
Free Keywords face; medical consultation; qualitative research
Document language English
Publication Year 2007
Page/Pages p. 163-180
Journal Health, 11 (2007) 2
Status Postprint; peer reviewed
Licence PEER Licence Agreement (applicable only to documents from PEER project)