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[Susan notes: If doctors can learn empathy, might members of the media be next?]

Published in New York Times
04/09/2009

To the editor

article front page

Gossip Girls and Boys Get Lessons in Empathy



Empathy is drawing attention not only in middle schools but also at Harvard Medical School, where empathy training for doctors was the subject of the recent Annual Symposium on the Science of Learning.



Studies suggest that âsofterâ knowledge like emotional skills can be taught, and even the very nature of this âsoftâ science is being challenged. Mirror neuron research has demonstrated that these neurons provide internal representations for other peopleâs actions, sensations and emotions.



These studies provide hard neuroimaging data to substantiate the claim that people can feel what others are feeling.



Research consistently demonstrates the key role an empathic patient-doctor relationship plays in overall health. Empathy training and mindful practice â the skills involving awareness of oneâs emotional reactions, values, beliefs and biases â are becoming fundamental elements of a curriculum to teach medical trainees to become compassionate physicians.



The writers are, respectively, an associate clinical professor of psychiatry and a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

Helen Riess & Eugene Beresin


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