A new study from the University of Ghent in Belgium, which studied the relationship between health professionals and patients with chronic pain, suggests that clinicians who don’t like their patients tend to discount the level of pain they suffer from.

“A specific complaint [was] ‘Nobody believes me, no one is taking me seriously,’” said psychology professor and pain expert Ken Prkachin. “You really get that sense when you talk to patients, maybe people are being downgraded because they’re also disliked.”

The end result is that patients suffering from invisible pain — pain not resulting from broken bones, for example — could be receiving inadequate treatment if their health care providers disregard their feelings.

“When you associate dislikability with a person, it’s like you change an observer’s perception such that they just don’t pay close attention to (the person’s pain-related) behavior any more,” Prkachin explained.

The problem can be compounded by the fact that health professionals see so many patients in pain that they tend to become desensitized to it.

The solution, Prkachin said, could be to increase empathy by “the simple act of encouraging perspective taking — to try to look at it from the other person’s point of view, to get in the person’s head and understand what’s happening to them.”

[The Canadian Press]