, Volume 18, Issue 8, pp 670-674

What is clinical empathy?

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Patients seek empathy from their physicians. Medical educators increasingly recognize this need. Yet in seeking to make empathy a reliable professional skill, doctors change the meaning of the term. Outside the field of medicine, empathy is a mode of understanding that specifically involves emotional resonance. In contrast, leading physician educators define empathy as a form of detached cognition. In contrast, this article argues that physicians’ emotional attunement greatly serves the cognitive goal of understanding patients’ emotions. This has important implications for teaching empathy.

The author thanks Oxford University Press for permission to use material from Halpern J, From Detached Concern to Empathy: Humanizing Medical Practice, Oxford University Press, 2001.