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Acad Psychiatry. 2001 Dec;25(4):193-200.

The "ER" Seminar: Teaching Psychotherapeutic Techniques to Medical Students.

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Dr. McNeilly and Dr. Wengel are at the University of Nebraska Department of Psychiatry. Address correspondence to Dr. McNeilly, Department of Psychiatry, 985580 Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha, NE 68198-5580. E-mail:


The challenge of teaching good communication skills and psychotherapy to medical students was addressed through development of a clerkship seminar that stressed the practical application of psychotherapeutic techniques to the difficult and/or psychiatric patient. Clinical vignettes from television programs such as "ER" were used to illustrate encounters with extremely emotional or personality-disordered patients. Students also examined the dynamic meaning of these encounters, their own countertransference, and their ability to tolerate emotional interchanges with such patients. In addition, the vignettes were used to examine and apply Buckman's model for breaking bad news to patients who have undergone a significant loss. Seventy-two third-year medical students participated and completed pre- and post-seminar questionnaires to assess their knowledge and attitudes toward psychotherapeutic techniques. Students significantly improved in knowledge of countertransference, boundary setting, and how to break bad news. Attitudes toward breaking bad news and recognizing strong countertransference also improved. Some differences in post-seminar knowledge and attitudes were found between male and female students.


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