Journal of Medical Humanities

, Volume 19, Issue 1, pp 51–65

Compathy or Physical Empathy: Implications for the Caregiver Relationship

  • Janice M. Morse
  • Carl Mitcham
  • Wim J. van Der Steen

DOI: 10.1023/A:1024988002129

Cite this article as:
Morse, J.M., Mitcham, C. & van Der Steen, W.J. Journal of Medical Humanities (1998) 19: 51. doi:10.1023/A:1024988002129


In this article a case is made for the importance of a previously overlooked phenomenon, physical empathy orcompathy,defined as the physical manifestation of caregiver distress that occurs in the presence of a patient in physical pain or distress. According to the similarity of a caregiver's response to the original symptoms, there can be four types of compathetic response: identical, initiated, transferred, and converted. Controlling for the compathetic response may involve narrowing one's focus and/or changing caregiver attitudes. Finally, we argue that while the compathetic response may be beneficial to the caregiving relationship, enabling the provision of appropriate and adequate humane treatment and care, the caregiver must at times shield against the compathetic response in order to provide care.

Copyright information

© Human Sciences Press, Inc. 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • Janice M. Morse
    • 1
    • 4
  • Carl Mitcham
    • 2
  • Wim J. van Der Steen
    • 3
  1. 1.School of Nursing, College of Health & Human DevelopmentUSA
  2. 2.College of EngineeringThe Pennsylvania State UniversityUniversity Park
  3. 3.Vrije UniversiteitAmsterdamThe Netherlands
  4. 4.International Institute for Qualitative MethodologyUniversity of AlbertaEdmontonCanada

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