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Jen Butler: Working with Patients Who Drive You Crazy

Stress Management & Business Consultant Jen Butler says dental teams often ask her “Why are patients so crazy?” 

Butler suggest you think about a phobia that you have… "What happens when you are at the top of the Sears tower or you see a snake or a spider or you're in a tight elevator with a bunch of people around you? Do you start to sweat? Can you feel your pulse racing? Your heart is beating out of your chest? Are you all of a sudden starting to get irritable? That is what your patient is going through – fear."

Seventy-five percent of Americans have some level of dental fear. Of those 75%, 10-15% actually have a true diagnosable phobia of being afraid of going to the doctor. These patients have the fight, flight or freeze response. “When you start seeing them as people that are afraid of being there, you know what happens? It changes the way you interact with them,” says Butler. “It changes what you offer them and the empathy that you share and how you comfort them.”

Butler has identified 12 different types of patients that are commonly found in the dental practice, and for each one of these different types of patients, there are ways to help de-escalate the situation. “If patients continue to drive you crazy and you drive them out of your practice, you will have a very small population that you are willing to work with,” says Butler. “And that only stunts the growth of your dental practice.” 

Empathy is #1

The number one way to contend with patients is to learn how to truly express empathy without being condescending. “One, never says, ‘I understand you.' You can't possibly understand. You can relate, but there's no way that you can really understand what someone is going through.” Butler advises saying something like, “That sounds difficult. That sounds challenging. That sounds horrible. You must be feeling tired by that.” 

Acknowledge and validate

Another way is to acknowledge and validate. “It doesn't matter if you believe them to be true,” says Butler. “Whatever they're saying or whatever they're feeling, they believe it to be true. The patient believes that the dentist will hurt them. The patient believes the dentist is scary. The patient believes that there's something to be fearful of. We know that that's not necessarily the case, but they can't help it because it's their stress response, and it's how they react.” 

You can say to the patient, “Thank you for sharing that with me. You really are brave coming here, and we are going to take such good care of you. Let's talk about how you can let us know if you are in pain or if you're too scared, and we can take this slow.” You have acknowledged and validated the patient as well as given the patient “open space to be able to share how they are feeling.” 

Butler says, “If you can master these skills, you then will be able to work with patients of all ages and demographics and really build upon your patient base, grow your practice, and then patients won't drive you crazy.”

About this Industry Leader:

Minal Sampat, BA, RDH - Profile Pic

Jen Butler, M.Ed, BCC

Stress Management and Business Consultant, JB Partners Inc.

Jen Butler is the founder and CEO of JB Partners, a SMaRT (Stress Management and Resiliency Training) firm dedicated to the success of leaders and teams and the long-term sustainable profitability of businesses. Building on her MEd in educational psychology and 25+ years of experience, Jen is a Certified Coach (Center for Credentialing and Education; and International Coach Federation), a Certified Book Yourself Solid (TM) Consultant (Michael Port), a Kolbe System Certified Consultant, and a Nationally Trained and Certified Presenter, who is also IAS Certified. As a dental consultant and then dental executive coach, she has worked with dental professionals to reduce stress, identify areas of opportunity, set actionable goals and enjoy more fulfillment. She travels throughout the United States to provide leaders, teams, and businesses with one-on-one onsite guidance in managing stress, turning around their business, and achieving real, long-lasting results.

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