Is Empathy Essential In Healthcare?

Posted on:5,Jul'18

Posted by: CancerHelpline

Tags: Empathy In Healthcare


Empathy is defined as sensing what another person feels as though you are that person. It is not pity or sympathy; empathy essentially is putting oneself into the other person’s shoes.

Often, People cringe when they have to talk about losing a job, or certain kinds of illness. This is because; we think that others may feel sorry for us. However, certain gestures help in conveying to them that we understand their predicament. Empathy is a skillset or a set of tools. While some people are naturally empathetic, this skill could also be taught. It is a method of conveying to another person that we understand and relate to their feelings & emotions at that particular point in time.

Carl Rogers is one of the leading researchers in the field of empathy. He was the first one who postulated that adding empathy in all conditions, including healthcare, helps in improving results.

According to researcher Carl Rogers, empathetic behaviour could be defined using the following points.

• Put yourself in the other person’s shoes
• Lay aside any perceptions you have about the situation
• Don’t project anything you know about the situation or what led to the situation, and comment about it
• Communicate your understanding back to the person

Carl Rogers’ video on empathy

While the previous set of pointers define what is empathy, it is also important to understand what is not empathy

• Empathy is not sympathy
• Empathy is not projection

For instance, if somebody were to share that they have lost their job, you need not share a story about how you lost a job & coped. Then the situation would become about you.

In the earlier years in healthcare, empathy was not projected as an essential part of patient care. With the number of doctors being fewer, people continued visiting the professional irrespective of their personal behaviour. A doctor was just meant to treat the disease or illness, and not the individual with the illness.

However, evidence has also shown that, empathy is not restricted to an outward response. Empathetic behaviour also improves treatment outcomes, especially in illnesses such as cancer, where treatment is extended over a period of time. This makes a strong case to show that empathy must be part of any element of healthcare.

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