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The role of empathy in clinical practice

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In this essay I discuss Edith Stein's (1989) analysis of empathy and note its application in the field of clinical medicine. In identifying empathy as the basic mode of cognition in which one grasps the experiences of others, Stein notes, 'I grasp the Other as a living body and not merely as a physical body'. The living body is given in terms of five distinctive characteristics - characteristics that disclose important facets of the illness experience. Empathy plays an important role in clinical practice in aiding physicians to grasp the content of first-person reports of bodily disorder, and to comprehend the meaning of illness-as-lived. I suggest that an important task for medical education should be that of developing students' capacity for empathic understanding and I note several ways in which this task might be accomplished.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Philosophy, Baylor University, PO Box 97274, Waco, TX 76798-7274, USA .

Publication date: May 1, 2001


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