Communication of pain

Maria in pain

  • Italians are generally very emotional in their response to pain and feel free to discuss and describe their pain. They also expect attention, sympathy and pain relief. It is important to remember that this expression of pain can vary depending on the Region they come from.
  • When in pain they are often reluctant to be alone and may prefer the presence and attention of other people. They often need plenty of encouragement and family support.
  • The Italian patient seems to display a tendency to place trust in a doctor or specialist and will display confidence in the opinions of the doctor.
  • It is important for the Italian patient to receive pain relief.
  • In certain studies Italians were described as being very emotional in their response to pain. They were described as tending to exaggerate their pain experience and being very sensitive to pain. They generally feel free to talk about their pain and may manifest their sufferings by groaning, moaning, crying etc.

They admit willingly that when they are in pain they do complain a great deal, call for help and expect sympathy and assistance from other members of their immediate social environment, especially from members of their family.

When in pain they are reluctant to be alone and prefer the presence and attention of other people. This behaviour, which is expected, accepted and approved culturally, may conflict with the patterns of behaviour expected from a patient by the medical profession. This behaviour may provoke distrust rather than sympathy from those giving the institutionalised care.

In a study conducted amongst four ethno – cultural groups at Kingsbridge Veterans Hospital, Bronx, New York, it was found that Italian patients seem mainly concerned with the immediacy of the pain experience and are disturbed by the actual pain sensation which they experience in a given situation. For Italians it was very important to relieve the actual pain whereas for the Jewish patient it was more important to relieve the anxieties with regard to the sources of pain. For more information see the studies section.

The Italian patient displays a positive prejudice towards the doctor. They tend to hold the doctor in high regard and feel that they are knowledgeable and authoritative. This could be due to the great importance that Italians give to their physical health and to the fact that they feel that doctors in many ways are capable of giving them the health that they want.

They feel that the doctor is omnipotent. Doctors in Italy will take on that omnipotent attitude and the patient will assume an attitude of deference. The result of the doctor’s intervention is strongly influenced by suggestibility owing to the prestige connected with the role.

Senior Italians are also likely not to seek second opinions for fear of retribution such as not receiving optimum care if they return to the original doctor or of being thought of as disrespectful of that professional’s knowledge.

The Italian patient seems to display a confident attitude toward the doctor which is usually reinforced after the doctor has succeeded in relieving pain. One could say that the Italian attitude towards pain is characterised by a present-oriented apprehension with regard to the actual sensation of pain.  (Adapted from “Cultural Responses to Pain- Sociology 101” from the original work by Mark Zborowski 1958 )