The goal is to show the true relevance of empathy on many domains of healthcare, including psychotherapy, family practice and occupational health, and to provide guidance towards heightening and better integrating empathy for health.
Together with placebo, empathy has been denoted as core non-specific factor of psychotherapy and the healing relationship in general. As such, it is powerful while at the same time being a rather vague concept. Therefore, we define beforehand a small number of core concepts such as empathy, sympathy, altruism, compassion, placebo, mind-body unity… based on literature. We make a little glossary of these concepts and terms available to all authors and readers. Contributors are free to use their own concepts on condition that they clearly define them in relation to the glossary. The main emphasis is on practical insights with minimal vagueness, bringing together the relevant past and probable future within the present. Theory is fine if it has direct practical implications while striving not to be paternalistic in any way. We want participants and readers to feel mentally completely at home and to just want to ‘do it’. While this is not a course in empathy, it is a keen invitation in every respect. We bear in mind the eventual patients and put ourselves in the place of their caregivers, trying to figure out what empathy means for the relationship and how we can still heighten it through every encounter and every article we read. It is within this combination of actual practice and reflection that caregivers grow.
What is needed?
We need a proper conceptualization of empathy and related concepts to clearly communicate to decision makers and the general public what it is about and why it is important.
We need a clearinghouse of information from peer-reviewed literature and personal communications with researchers on the field, including projects about trying to enhance levels of empathy with successes as well as failures.
We need recommendations based on science as well as being practically feasible. Empathy needs a dose of spontaneity, therefore cannot be brought as a set of rules. This, of course, doesn’t mean that it is less important but it needs to be brought and developed with extreme care and insight. This is not straightforward. ‘Thinking to know it all’ may be a sign of the opposite.
Therefore, we need clear messages based on facts, including about the borders of our knowledge. Such open communication is empathic by itself. Teaching by example is a necessary element for any ‘course in empathy’ to have a chance of success. We do not need vague utterances and well-meant admonitions with no guidance to put them into practice.
We need to see this as internationally as possible, as well as in the source material that we use in the implications that we arrive at. International knowledge transfer of our experiences is of utmost importance.