"At the center of medicine there is always a human relationship between a patient and a doctor."
Barbara Hemmedinger, MSS
2019 - 2023
Hello, I am Barbara Hemmendinger, and I am among other ABS members who confirm that Balint work has been the through line that traverses an entire career.
Although I completed my master’s degree at the Bryn Mawr College Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research, a place that is steeped in psychoanalytic theory and treatment, I did not encounter Michael and Enid Balint’s contributions until the late 1970s when I attended the Northeast Regional Conference of the Society of Teachers of Family Medicine in Pittsburgh, PA. There, I met Drs. Rex Pittenger and Laurel Milberg who demonstrated how Balint groups work. I was hooked immediately and proceeded to read The Doctor, His Patient and the Illness. A colleague and I, with no further mentoring, began offering Balint groups to family medicine residents at our community hospital here in Williamsport. Needless to say, we foundered. A decade or more later, having raised children and completed successful breast cancer treatment, I decided to take advantage of the formal leadership training opportunities that had been created. I enrolled in several different Intensives at Yellow Breeches and Sayre, both delightful settings here in Pennsylvania, which afforded enlightening experiences in growing my understanding of the Balint method and its particular group leadership skills. Doing so, I happily found a supportive community of like-minded clinicians and educators, as well.
Over the next 15 years I would continue to lead Balint groups in my residency program and become a credentialed leader, having completed supervision with Drs. Albert Lichtenstein and Frank Dornfest in 2003. At Frank’s and John Salinsky’s suggestion, I even arranged to visit the birthplace and subsequent office of Michael Balint in Budapest, Hungary, when I traveled to that city. I learned first-hand there about the difficulty of conducting Balint seminars during Soviet times and about how hard it was for group leaders to travel abroad to international conferences, privileges that we North Americans tend to enjoy largely beyond our conscious awareness.
So it was that I attended the ABS First National Meeting in Estes Park, CO, and subsequently accepted a nomination to the Society’s governing Council. Although now retired from my daytime job, I do enjoy working hard on behalf of the ABS where I serve as its Secretary, newsletter editor, and chairperson of the new Communication and Marketing committee. Beyond the meetings and deadlines, what I like most is the community of Balinteers who have become my second family as we all strive to bring our mission of humanizing and improving relationship-based clinical care to an ever widening world of practitioners and to those whom they have the good fortune to treat.