SAN FRANCISCO — Making health decisions like quitting smoking or losing weight are often difficult, despite desire on the part of individuals to change, because such habits are linked to deeply entrenched behaviors, according to a speaker here.

To inspire change, healthcare providers need to shift their approach from a fear and stigma based model to one that empowers patients, said Kelly McGonigal, PhD, a health psychologist at Stanford University and author of the best-selling book The Willpower Instinct. 

“Easy and comfortable strategies like scaring and shaming people are common techniques, but these actually increase the gap between peoples’ wish to change and their strength, ability and willingness to change,” said McGonigal during the opening session at the American Academy of Physician Assistants 2015 meeting

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Instead, she encouraged the audience to “be catalysts for change,” by adopting several science based techniques. “Change the way you talk to your patients and create supportive communities.”

Interventions that draw on mindfulness-based or acceptance-based traditions are generally more effective at helping patients make difficult behavior changes, she emphasized.