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Empathy: a medical skill.

"He's sympathetic enough," a patient complains, "but my doctor just doesn't understand or feel what I'm going through," Norman Cousins reported in an article in the New England Journal of Medicine ('85:313:1422-1424).

According to Cousins, 85% of individuals surveyed changed physicians within a period of 5 years and indicated "lack of compassion" upon the doctor's part for the change.

Obviously, patients who are critical of the doctor-patient relationship want more than symphaty; their hunger is for emphaty.

Emphaty is the capacity to understand what another person is experiencing from within that person's frame of reference, the ability to place oneself in the other's plight.

This capacity for empathizing another person's feelings should be the basis of every healing relationship. When the patient senses such commiseration, both trust and confidence lead to more openness on the part of the patient.

The use of empathy can help physicians reach an openness that can help them to plumb deeply into the psyche, an area that medications cannot reach.

"Our hope is that physicians can learn improve their communication with patients," Doctors Paul S. Bellet, M.D., and M.J. Mahoney, M.D., recently adivised their colleagues. "If physicians consciously pay attention to empathy and cultivate it as an interviewing skill, they will help others and alleviate more suffering. Those physicians who learn to use empathy will realize its importance in forging an emotional bond between themselves and their patients."
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Publication:Nutrition Health Review
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Jan 1, 1992
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