Therapeutic Use of Empathy

Here’s an example of how a functional definition of empathy is useful in health care.  When a family member asks me if their loved one is dying, I ask if they personally have had any unusual dreams lately.  The task is to hear what they have to say, and allow them to weep while they are saying it, without weeping yourself.  The examiner should experience the emotion of peace, not grief.  Therapeutic empathy is communication; it is not mirroring.  If the only trick you know is to experience the same emotion as the family member, a) you won’t be much good to them; and b) you won’t last long in this business.

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