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2005 - 14th International Balint Congress - Stockholm - Sweden

Categorie: IBF

The 14th International Balint Congress took place from 24-27 August in Stockholm. Over 120 delegates from 18 countries took part and it was a very enjoyable occasion. The Swedish Association of Medical Psychology were excellent hosts and our material, social and cultural needs were well taken care of.

We began with a welcome party in Stockholm's magnificent City Hall (where the Nobel prize winners are also entertained todinner each year). On the second evening we had a boat tour round the City'smain waterways with wonderful views of the city's graceful public buildings. The Congress Dinner and Dance was held in the unique Junibacken museum,dedicated to the storybook world of the great childrenís writer AstridLindgren. She was the creator of Pippi Longstocking and many other characters whom we felt we should get to know better. It was especially good to meet old friends and make new ones; and to talk about our work with colleagues who shareour feelings about the importance of empathy-based medicine.

During the scientific sessions we listened to and discussed each othersí papers and took part in Balint groups with an international flavour. These Congresses now stretch back more than 3 decades and in the last few years there has been asense of continuity and forward momentum, with each conference taking up the work from the previous one. The theme of the Stockholm Congress was 'Balintwork in times of change and crisis in the health care system'.   In the many excellent papers we heard both a celebration of our many achievements and a concern about whether Balint work can survive and prosper in the current health care climate.

We heard from a number of different countries about groups for students who were full of enthusiasm for a person centred approach to medicine; other speakers described how a Balint group can protect mature doctors from overwork, cynicism and professional despair. We learned a good deal about how group leaders were being trained and supported. Balint famously talked about ëresearch-cum-trainingí and there were also many reports of research activities. Some groups were trying to evaluate the effects of participation in a particular group while others were trying to find ways to evaluate the overall outcome of  Balint training and tosee what difference it makes. The difficulties of applying the classical scientific method in the arena of human feelings was apparent and there was more emphasis on qualitative research methods than in previous years. However, although this approach can tell us more about what really goes on in a Balintgroup it may not convince the medical education authorities that Balint deserves a central place in the curriculum. Some people felt that we had to talk to them in their own (positivist) language in order to get through to them. On the other hand we might be able to interest them in learning our language!  Those who are in charge of our healthcare systems seem to be reacting to recurrent crises by showing less interest in maintaining the  personal and continuous care which we ( and our patients) value so deeply.  We need to gain the attention of the politicians and encourage them to invest in Balint. We need to move with the times but at the same time, in our anxiety to ëmarketí Balint groups we must not lose touch with our own core values, which have their roots in the discoveries of psychoanalysis.

I hope that this brief account will give you some impression of the content and flavour of the 14th International Congress. The papers and discussions werel ively and challenging. People listened to each other. They sometimes disagreed but the whole conference was permeated by a wonderful spirit of friendliness and good humoured co-operation.  And so we return to our work in our own countries feeling refreshed, invigorated and already looking forward to the 15th Congress which will be in Lisbon, Portugal, in September 2007.  I do hope you will join us!

John Salinsky