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Books, Journals, New Media
February 27, 2002

EmpathyFrom Detached Concern to Empathy: Humanizing Medical Practice

Author Affiliations

Harriet S.MeyerMD, Contributing EditorDavid H.MorseMS, Journal Review EditorRobertHoganMD, adviser for new media


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JAMA. 2002;287(8):1052-1053. doi:10.1001/jama.287.8.1052-JBK0227-4-1

In From Detached Concern to Empathy, Jodi Halpern presents a scholarly and cogent exposition of the philosophic underpinnings of the concept of empathy. Using a variety of examples from direct patient care, she develops the idea of empathy becoming a skill useful in the practice of medicine. She makes logical arguments in favor of teaching empathy and emotional reasoning in medical school and postgraduate curricula.

The author's central thesis is that emotional reasoning is a specific skill to be desired in physicians and should be used to move beyond the previous ideal of detachment into a more empathic understanding of individual patients' problems. As she develops her thesis, Halpern opens with a description of emotional communication in medicine and its pitfalls. She then moves to a discussion of the traditional "ideal" of the medical model, that of scientific and detached objectivity. She does not dismiss this model as inappropriate, but rather presents an argument that it is, of itself, insufficient for the task of accurate diagnosis. Next, Halpern outlines the concept of emotional reasoning and its role in the development of clinical empathy. She follows this with a significant refutation of the argument that emotional reasoning can be seen as a violation of patient autonomy and closes the book with a summary of her model of clinical empathy as it applies in day-to-day medical practice.

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