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February 8, 1993

The Empathic Physician

Author Affiliations

From the Department of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Mass, and Cambridge (Mass) Hospital.

Arch Intern Med. 1993;153(3):306-312. doi:10.1001/archinte.1993.00410030022004

Empathy is a process for understanding an individual's subjective experiences by vicariously sharing that experience while maintaining an observant stance. It is a useful tool in the medical encounter as it provides the physician with a fuller, more personalized view of the patient, and it provides the patient with a sense of connectedness to the physician that may allow him/her to more freely express his/her emotional distress. The roots of empathy are explained as a process that evolves from a developmental substrate with the addition of relevant experience, memory, and fantasy. While understanding the patient alone is a worthwhile goal, the physician's empathic insight can have therapeutic impact by its reflection back on the patient, through the use of language, to express support or sympathy, to justify behavior, or to foster deeper emotional expression.

(Arch Intern Med. 1993;153:306-312)