Empathy is being able to “enter” another person’s mind and understand their emotions (Zinn W, 1999). In simpler terms, it is seen as being able to put oneself into another’s shoes. In essence, empathy is a strong communication skill that is misinterpreted most of the time. The significance of empathy has emerged in contemporary times. Recently, educators and authors have vouched for the teaching and learning of empathic communication as a skill. In the setting of a clinician-patient relationship, an efficient emphatic communication actually enhances the effectiveness of the therapy (Le Compte A., 2000). Moreover, when empathy is used appropriately, it actually enhances the process of clinical interview and information gathering. In addition, Emotional Intelligence (EI) measures the ability, skill or capacity to assess and manage personal emotions and those of others. Intelligence Quotient (IQ) alone is not enough to achieve success because it ignores the basic behavioral and character ideals. The review is aimed creating a good description and understanding of the idea of empathy and outlining its importance in social functioning.
Keywords: empathy, communication, emotional intelligence
Empathy Can Give People More Comfort
The word empathy originated in 1880s when the term “einfuhlung” was first used by a German psychologist Theodore Lipps (Ickes, 1997). It was meant to refer to the recognition of the feelings of other people from their own point of view. Furthermore, empathy has been seen as the ability to understand and share in a person’s emotions while still maintaining an observant stance (Zinn W, 1999). Empathy also means recognizing other people’s feelings and taking part in the emotional experience without becoming a part of them (Keen S., 2007). (Gagan, 1983) further states that empathy is being able to perceive the feelings of someone and transmitting them.
According to (Pembroke, 2007), empathy should play a major role in the communications between patients and healthcare professionals so as to achieve the results desired. It is of paramount importance to alienate empathy from sympathy. Sympathy is an immediate, uncontrolled emotional reaction. On the other hand, empathy is being able to put oneself in the person’s shoes (Fairban, 2002). In addition, one is thought to have increased or decreased empathy depending on whether he feels responsible towards other persons (Ickes, 1997).
It is important to note that empathy is a feeling which can be expressed in various forms such as sorrow, joy, misery, confusions and pain. In the healthcare sector, empathy bridges the gap between patients and healthcare professionals (Le Compte A., 2000). In the initial phase, empathy is unlikely to perceive the feelings of another person. Despite this, it is paramount for health care personnel to try to perceive the feelings and emotions of the patient (Reynolds B., 1994).
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Leslie Jamison talks about a physician known as “the Australian” from Laurieton, New South Wales in her article, Devil’s Bait. At the conference on Morgellons disease, the physician presents himself to the audience as a doctor who listens to his patients. The crowd gets fired up because they are drawn to this doctor who appears to have empathy towards his patients. In the field healthcare sector, empathy is a powerful tool with powerful results if used in the appropriate manner. In essence, healthcare professionals need to put themselves in the shoes of the patients so as to understand what the patients are feeling and experiencing. First and foremost, health care personnel need to have a basic emotional understanding of the illness from the patient’s point of view. Thereafter, the health care professionals should be able to identify and perceive the feelings of the patients. Therefore, if empathy is used effectively in such a setting, the effectiveness of therapy is also improved.
Fostering Healthy Relationships
In Devil’s Bait, the author describes microscopes being handed out to the sick after the conference on Morgellons disease so that they could examine their skins. One of the attendants, Sandra, gets sad because she does not get a microscope. The persona offers to give Sandra his microscope to her utter delight. This shows that healthy relationships are based on the ability to give attention to others and understanding what is going on in their lives. The emergence of the concept of emotional intelligence quotient (EQ) seeks to measure how people interact with others on an emotional level. It assesses how someone is able to understand his feelings, listen to other people and channel his emotions in a productive manner (Jamison, 2013). EQ encompasses a multitude of skills which include controlling one’s impulses, controlling impatience and preventing frustration. Currently, most educational systems are beginning to encourage children to explore other areas of intelligence. Emotional education boosts a child’s awareness in the fields of confidence, empathy, self-control and self-awareness.
Empathy Improves Life Quality
In his article, Devil’s Bait, Leslie Jamison describes a nurse from Pittsburg called Dawn who was diagnosed with Morgellons disease. This was after a series of misdiagnoses by doctors who simply ignored her thinking that she was simply anxious or emotional. Dawn later claimed that her coworkers, the nurses, were really empathetic towards her and came to her whenever they found anything strange in her wounds. Based on Dawn’s story, it is clear that the doctors lacked empathy towards Dawn and ended up misdiagnosing her illness several times. They simply ignored her thinking that she was just too anxious. However, her nurses had empathy towards her and took care of her wounds whenever they got worse. Therefore, in a hospital setting, it is important for health care personnel to express empathy towards their patients to improve the effectiveness of therapy. This will translate into an improved quality of life.
Empathy in Learning
Effective relationships and communication have their basis on confidence and a certain degree of empathy. Leslie Jamison talks about a man from Texas called Paul in his article, Devil’s Bait. Paul suffered from Morgellons and had come to the conference to find a cure. However, during the conference, Paul was busy looking at photographs on his computer and did not even listen to the speaker. Paul lacked empathy towards those who spoke at the conference and did not even listen to what they had to say. Empathy is key in learning. The ability to establish scientific and professional discussions relies on having confidence and associating with others in an appropriate way. In essence, confidence is established through the process of listening to other people and being able to understand what they are saying. However, this does not necessarily translate into agreeing with everything that someone says. Therefore, people should be able to listen attentively to one another to understand their feelings and judgments on a particular subject. That is why teamwork should be directed towards understanding what others require and coming up with ways to realize these objectives.
Empathy Eliminates Misunderstanding
Empathy is a powerful tool which can eliminate misunderstanding. The real essence of empathy is to fully understand the feelings and emotions of another person (Jamison, 2013). It focuses on getting to know what another person is going through and knowing the kind of emotions they are experiencing. Therefore, in situations of joy, happiness, sorrow or pity, people are able to fully understand one another and perceive each other’s emotions. This in turn creates a feeling of mutual understanding whereby people fully understand one another. As a results, mutual understanding in any given setup prevents potential conflicts. In addition, it fosters feelings of love, acceptance and respect.
Excessive Empathy is Dangerous
A certain degree of empathy makes us better humans (Jamison, 2013). However, placing empathy at the core of all our undertakings is a terrible idea. First of all, empathy is not a very motivating factor. It only serves to raise the level of concern. In addition, empathy may result in preferential treatment and unfortunate bias. This is to mean that people will tend to feel empathy for some people alone and not others. Moreover, empathy can be easily influenced by certain factors such as sadness and pity.
In conclusion, empathy is a powerful tool in communication if used correctly. It helps us connect with others on a deeper level of understanding. This helps us to perceive what others are going and be able to take the necessary steps to help them. Empathy has a place in morality.