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Doctors: Empathy vs Emotional Attachment

Updated on September 9, 2010
Should doctors be empathic towards patients? Can they be empathic without being emotionally attached?
Should doctors be empathic towards patients? Can they be empathic without being emotionally attached?

“Empathy is the capacity to think and feel oneself into the inner life of another person.”

Empathy is the core of a good physician-patient relationship. Knowing and understanding the feelings of patients is found to improve certain aspects in the process of treatment. For this reason, being empathic is emphasized in the medical field. Having empathic ties with patients is found to increase patient satisfaction, physician satisfaction, improved therapeutic relationships, and overall improved clinical outcomes. Empathy training programs are being conducted to allow medical students and professionals learn and practice this ability.

The Downside of Empathy

However, some assert that empathy must be discouraged in the medical profession. They say that doctors at all times must maintain a neutral disposition in the workplace. Being empathic towards patients is not advisable because this may possibly hamper the delivery of quality medical care. The simple sharing of feelings between doctor and patient makes both parties vulnerable and may bring upon negative outcomes.

Some people believe though that being empathic is different from being emotionally attached. Humans are naturally altruistic beings. It is in our nature to feel concern for the welfare of other people. But some claim that it is possible to understand others’ feelings and yet be emotionally distant at the same time.

Having Too Much Empathy

Medical professionals should avoid emotional attachments as this may affect their sound judgment and focus. Doctors who get emotionally attached to patients may consequently make rash decisions regarding the patient’s treatment. This may then possibly increase errors in the medical practice and also increase hazards to the patient. Moreover, being emotionally attached is not good to the medical professional as well because this results to physical and psychological distress and fatigue.

Even if empathy may seem natural to people, some medical professionals claim that they do not seem to have this ability. Whatever their nature may be, empathy must still be encouraged among doctors considering the fact that its presence in the medical field brings improvement. Like in all other situations though, the saying “too much of something is bad” also applies in this case. It does not necessarily mean then that doctors must be cold and numb towards their patients and only make contact with when treating them using medical instruments. What should be avoided is having too much empathy which results to emotional attachment. Medical practitioners must bear in mind to keep their emotions under control to maintain objectivity and professionalism in the workplace.


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      Anon 7 years ago

      I think that doctors who are empathetic without emotional attachment, make the best doctors. The reason being is that they are able to put themselves in their patients situation and perceive the world and in this case, pain from their point of view. It is true that from a doctors perspective, that having sympathy or an emotional connection with a patient has the potential to cloud of doctors thoughts when making decisions about medical treatment options. Have you not thought why doctors are not allowed to treat their relatives and close relations? Its because if personal relationships are involved, the doctors feel more pressure, tension. This ultimately leads to emotional fatigue. Because doctors are also humans, when doctors are stressed, it calls for a higher chance of error. That is why we should be able to be empathetic enough to make the best objective decision when treating patients, but not emotionally attached that it can potentially put the patients health are more risk.