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Monday, January 9, 2017

Empathy is an overrated skill when dispensing medical care

Karin Jongsma
Aeon Magazine
Originally published December 15, 2016

Here is an excerpt:

In fact, this final requirement is most closely related not to empathy but to compassion – defined among emotion researchers as the feeling that arises when you are confronted with another’s suffering, including the desire to help. This non-empathetic compassion – a more distanced love and kindness and concern for others – might act as a bridge between recognising the other’s feelings and providing care without the detriments of empathy. Since compassion does not require identification with the patient, it can help in performing good care as a professional duty, building trust, and treating someone according to his or her needs, while avoiding cognitive biases and empathetic distress.

Empathy still matters in healthcare settings that don’t require action: self-help forums and family-support coordinators can be guided by empathy. And precisely because empathy is biased, physicians should be trained to critically reflect upon their empathy gaps rather than be told to fake it.