The Art of Breaking Bad News Well  book cover
1st Edition

The Art of Breaking Bad News Well

ISBN 9780367356682
Published September 11, 2019 by CRC Press
96 Pages

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Book Description

As Head of Oncological Surgery and the Gynecology Clinic at Berlin’s Charité Comprehensive Cancer Center, Jalid Sehouli is one of the world’s leading cancer specialists. Every day, he experiences situations in which conversations take on a life-or-death significance.

Delivering bad news is one of the most difficult tasks we face in life, especially for professionals such as doctors, police, or crisis intervention personnel, yet it is rarely touched on during training.

Over the course of their career, a doctor will hold conversations with around 200,000 patients and their relatives that invariably involve delivering good or bad news. Either way, existential questions will arise, and the way the news is delivered is vital: recent studies show that it has a significant impact on patients’ quality of life and the way they experience treatment.

Mixing his wide-ranging professional experience with personal stories, Sehouli describes the emotions and perspectives of those who have to give and receive bad news from a broad perspective. His book can be helpful for anyone who has to deliver bad news—managers, friends, or parents.

Table of Contents


The moment of encounter - "Please come in": Two people meet

1 Who Needs This Book, and why a Doctor had to Write it

Breaking Bad News

Unbearable Fear

How is Communication Taught and Learned?


A Topic that Affects us All—Even in Private

2 Breaking Bad News Well

A Visit from the Head Doctor

An Afternoon Walk

Preparing for an Existential Conversation

What do Patients Expect of a Good Doctor?

Being Aware of One’s Role

Doctor, Why Am I So Hoarse?

How Do I Start a Conversation When Sharing Bad News?

Difficulties in Understanding

Why Silence is Sometimes the Best Answer

In the Stairwell

The Decisive Question

Truthfulness and Trust

Allowing Space for Theories of Illness and Speaking with each Other

The sad message about Mamed

The Message

The Bigger Picture: Turning Relatives into Allies

What Helps People to Assimilate Bad News?

The Leap

Learning from Life Experience

Spirituality—Hope in Hopeless Times

"I Won’t Give Up, After All"

Finishing and Documenting the Conversation

"Mommy is very sick"

Examples From Outside Medicine

The Father and the Young Policeman

3 On the Search for Good News

Changing Perspective

The Good Evening News

The Chess Flower

Finding the Good in the Bad—A Question of Timing

Back at Office Hours

4 Moscow

In Place of an Author’s Biography: My Saddest, and Most Beautiful News

What Happened with Susanne Sieckler?

Appendixes: Help for helpers, recipients and relatives

A1 Brief summary of the SPIKES method

A2 Guidelines for Announcing a Death

A3 Breaking Bad News — Seminars

A4 Checklists for Communicating Bad News

A5 Selected Scientific Research


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Professor Dr. med. h.c. Jalid Sehouli is a German gynecologist and oncologist who specializes in peritoneal and ovarian cancer. He is a professor at the famous Berlin’s Charité Hospital and a writer of scientific as well as philosophic works.