Empathy. Useful or not?

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Dr Mark HassedI had a very interesting and challenging conversation with a medical practitioner recently.

They held that the secret to good patient communication was empathy. They felt that without empathy you could not really help the patient.

I took the exact opposite view on empathy. I feel that empathy is at best useless and often harmful.

Empathy is defined as “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another”.

Here’s why I take a dim view of it.

  1. Patients are often full of fear and neuroses
    Why would I want to share fear and neuroses? An ideal dentist should look kind and understanding on the outside while remaining like teflon on the inside.
  2. Your job is to fix problems
    Problems are best solved if you remain detached and objective. The moment you become emotionally involved your judgment is clouded.
  3. Empathy wastes time
    Certainly you have to listen to and hear people but empathy often leads to prolonged wallowing in problems.

Where do you stand on empathy?

My recommendation is to be kind and considerate but keep internal detachment and impartiality.


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3 thoughts on “Empathy. Useful or not?

    David Moffet said:
    April 4, 2017 at 11:16 am

    I look forward to seeing the responses here Mark. I agree that emotion certainly clouds judgement and “sways” us away from the hard decisions. Great article.

      Dr Mark Hassed responded:
      April 5, 2017 at 8:05 pm

      Thanks David. I floated this concept on DPR as an interesting discussion point. I got a torrent of abuse so I pulled it. Some dentists have such fixed ideas.

    nadinelindsay said:
    April 5, 2017 at 6:00 pm

    Interesting newsletter and I agree with your approach.

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