Exploring Empathy in Medical Narratives

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"In response to the perceived dehumanizing methods of biomedicine, the humanist medical movement of the 1960's brought with it a demand for the return of empathy to clinical practice. With this demand, the interdisciplinary field known as the medical or health humanities sought to bring empathic and humanistic care through the arts and literature, with a focus on patient-provider communication. From this field came narrative medicine, a field that looks to facilitate patient-provider communication through the inclusion of patient narratives. However, even with all the support, the implementation of empathy into medicine proves to be a complicated endeavor. Empathy, a complex emotion that resists definition, can have adverse effects for both patient and provider when not applied and regulated correctly. There are various strategies involving the regulation of empathy in medicine, including distancing, detachment, or emotional numbing. There is no one standard method, and what might work with one patient might not work for another, as with providers. To understand how these various methods and strategies work, I argue that an examination of provider narratives can provide insight into how empathy can be properly regulated in various situations. The narratives of health care providers contain themes, metaphors, and elements that convey accessible communication about the ways in which empathy can be regulated and the benefits of that proper regulation."--Abstract.

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