Empathy is the ability to perceive and understand the emotional experience of others and to relate to it a meaningful and appropriate manner.
An empathic connection occurs when the carer understands what the patients is experiencing and when this is communicated either verbally or nonverbally so that the patients feel that they are understood.
The empathic response is very useful in an emotionally charged interview. It consists of three steps:
1. Identifying the emotion that the patient is experiencing.
2. Identifying the origin and root cause of that emotion.
3. Responding in a way that tells the patient that you have made the connection between 1 and 2.
The empathic connection is often therapeutic in itself.
The most effective empathic response follows the format of “You seem to be…” or “It must be… “; for example, “It must be very distressing for you to know that all that therapy did not give you long term remission”.
By identifying and acknowledging the emotion that the patient is experiencing, you are giving it legitimacy as an item on the patient’s agenda.
Buckman R. Communication Skills. Emanuel LL, Librach SL (Ed). Palliative Care – Core Skills and Clinical Competencies. Second Edition, St.Louis, Missouri, Elsevier, 2011, pp. 30-55.