So, when it was time to give the Family Support Center staff a new training session, I asked myself how to give them a science lecture that would be both useful and interesting. Eventually I decided to discuss critical thinking when taking clinical decisions. I showed them a PowerPoint slide with the following information:
- A young woman comes to the clinic, claims that she has been beaten by her husband.
- We know from before that the woman has new boyfriends every month even though she is married.
- She is known to have a bad temper, be talkative and has once been seen out on the town beating a neighbour.
- Her husband is a pastor, a well-respected man in the community who often gives money to charity and the community.
We discussed what associations this information gave us. Most of us agreed that based on the given background information it is easy to think of the woman as a liar. Then we went on to the next slide that contained some further information:
- The woman was repeatedly sexually abused as a child by her father
- She often witnessed her father beat her mother
- When she feels threatened, she screams and talks ugly in order to scare away the other person
- The woman she was beating out on the town is a neighbor who likes to gossip about the woman’s relationship to her father
- Her husband is jealous and beats her in the privacy of their home
This new information gave us a completely different picture of the woman. We discussed how we as health care workers might have approached her had we based our judgment solely on the information on the first slide. And how might the woman feel as our patient then? Probably not very good.
We went on to talk about how we can know what information to consider as true. What is the only way of knowing the truthfulness of claims like “Men are smarter than women” or “Everybody should be given debriefing after a traumatic event”. The right answer is: research (and research has shown that neither of the two example sentences is completely true.)
We continued discussing similar claims and planned how we would go about studying them scientifically. A whole lot of fun! When I ended the training by asking if “we all love science now?” the staff shouted “Yes!” I really think they were sincere and not only trying to please their (over)enthusiastic supervisor.