Is Empathy in Clinical Practice Possible? (October 20, 2010) Jane Macnaughton

Jane Macnaughton, M.B.Ch.B., Ph. D. (Professor of Medical Humanities and Co-Director, Centre for Medical Humanities, and Deputy Head, School of Medicine and Health, Durham, Durham, United Kingdom) explored the efficacy and potential dangers of utilizing empathy in clinical practice. Dr. Macnaughton traced the understanding and use of empathy, person-centered therapy, and the dialogic principle (“I and Thou”) via the writings of Carl Rodgers and Martin Buber.


She also illustrated the experience of provoked empathy or imaginative insight by fiction writers such as Sally Vickers (“The Other Side of You”) and Sylvia Plath (“The Bell Jar”). Margaret E. Mohrmann, M.D., Ph. D. (Kornfeld Professor of Biomedical Ethics and Director, Programs in Biomedical Ethics, Center for Biomedical Ethics and Humanities, University of Virginia), supported Dr. Macnaughton’s concerns regarding empathy and highlighted other aspects such as a moral imperative, the imperialism of empathy, and the presumptuousness of empathy.


Dr. Morhmann emphasized the importance of connecting with patients via questions and the basic values of attentiveness, concern, care, responsibility, and creating trusting relationships.