Responding to difficult emotions

Jennifer Philip, David W. Kissane

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (Book)Researchpeer-review


Clinicians must be prepared to allow the expression of a variety of emotions, including anger, in cancer care. There are times during the illness when emotional responses may be anticipated, such as when a patient is first diagnosed with cancer, when a recurrence occurs, or when the disease is progressing despite anti-cancer treatments. There will be other times when the physician is unaware of the particular stimulus for emotional distress. A seemingly benign discussion can result in an unexpected response. Additional sources of vulnerability do occur in the lives of cancer patients, not directly related to the cancer care. To be supportive, physicians must be skilled in the delivery of empathic responses when dealing with a difficult patient. These are teachable skills. The assessments of physicians and their responses will vary according to the acuity or chronicity of the emotions expressed. This chapter takes the angry patient as one example of an emotionally difficult encounter and offers a model as to how the clinician can respond. This approach can be applied to a range of other challenging interactions.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHandbook of Communication in Oncology and Palliative Care
EditorsDavid Kissane, Barry Bultz, Phyllis Butow, Ilora Finlay
Place of PublicationUSA
PublisherOxford University Press, USA
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9780191730290
ISBN (Print)9780199238361
Publication statusPublished - 17 Nov 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Anger
  • Cancer care
  • Cancer patients
  • Difficult patient
  • Emotional distress
  • Emotions
  • Physicians

Cite this