Power in doctor-patient relationships is asymmetrically distributed. The doctor holds resources the patient needs and has a mandate to promote healthy living. Power may benefit or harm the patients' health, and the doctor-patient relationship.
To identify aspects of power and powerlessness in GPs' narratives about lifestyle counselling.
A qualitative study using focus groups from peer-group meetings of Norwegian GPs attending continuing medical education.
GPs discussed case stories about lifestyle counselling in focus groups. The discussions were transcribed and the text analysed using systematic text condensation.
Aspects of power concerning the framework of the consultation and the GPs' professional role were found. Also identified were: power expressed by opportunistic approaches to change patients' lifestyle; rhetoric communication; paternalism; and disclosure. GPs reported powerlessness in complex communication, when there were difficulties reaching goals, and when patients resisted or ignored their proposals.
Case-study discussions in peer groups disclose several aspects of power and powerlessness that occur in consultations. Consciousness about aspects of power may facilitate counselling that benefits the patient and the doctor-patient relationship.