How to Tackle Clinical Empathy ????

Medical educators and professional bodies increasingly recognize the importance of empathy, but they define empathy in a special way to be consistent with the overarching norm of detachment. Outside the field of medicine, empathy is an essentially affective mode of understanding. Empathy involves being moved by another’s experiences. In contrast, a leading group from the Society for General Internal Medicine defines empathy as “the act of correctly acknowledging the emotional state of another without experiencing that state oneself.” (Jodi Halpern, 2003)

The whole point of empathy is to focus attention on the patient.A listener who was busy having his or her own parallel emotions and introspecting about them would have the wrong focus.

For Example is a patient says that he / she has stopped doing his/her exercise empathy involves taking cues from his/her tone.Because he/she doesn’t feel unwell, or he/ she may see the exercise program as useless because of  hopeless feel about getting well.

The skeptic might ask why it matters whether physicians respond emotionally if they just behave empathically. Jodi halpern suggests,

1)The observational studies mentioned above show that patients sense whether physicians are emotionally attuned.

 2) Patients trust physicians who respond to their anxiety with their own responsive worry. Trust has been associated with better treatment adherence.

3) It matters when and how physicians ask patients about their feelings, and empathic attunement guides physicians about when to ask questions, when to stay silent, and when to repeat important words.

Another example an be quoted from the case study of a GBS patient cited by Ann Hallum. The patient reported that she was terrified during the time she was totally paralysed (including eyelid movement) and on a respirator.

She said that nurse,doctors and hospital staff seemed to assume she could not hear because she was unable to respond in any manner.

In her word ” they acted like I was already dead”

Needless to say , Evidence is increasing that patients treated in acute trauma rooms or ICUs can have POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS SYNDROME.


1 thought on “How to Tackle Clinical Empathy ????

  1. Michael Rowe

    Thanks for the post. I really liked your points about emotional alignment with patients can lead to increased trust and greater connection. I’m not a huge fan of the concept of “compliance”, since I prefer to think of a collaborative activity, and compliance would seem to suggest a power relationship in favour of the therapist. However, semantics aside, I think the point is a good one and that we should be paying attention to when and how we respond to patient’s emotional contexts.


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