Many liked the video, though some colleagues who are experts in clinician-patient communication felt that Dr. Brown was off target in her conceptualization of sympathy. Dr. Dennis Novack, Professor of Medicine and Associate Dean of Medical Education at Drexel University College of Medicine, wrote:
"I like what she says about empathy, but disagree completely with her definition of sympathy, which really undermines the value of the video for me. Sympathy is derived from the Greek sympatheia which means "feeling with." In one sense it might be empathy on steroids. We send a sympathy card to someone because we feel the loss as well. We feel sorrow for and with another, though maybe not as deeply, and in some ways identify with the other.
The classic studies of Nightengale et al show that physicians who adopt a more sympathetic stance toward patients’ emotional situations do too many tests and perform CPR longer – they lose their objectivity (Nightengale, S.D., et al. JGIM:1991; 6:420-23.)
Empathy is conceived as a more objective process. All the actions you listed are components of the empathic process, that allow the physician to feel for patients and communicate that understanding, while still being able to make good decisions about their medical care free of the effects of the emotions elicited.By the way, a recent study Suely Grosseman and I and others recently did suggests that another component of the empathic process is checking to ensure that the patient got the empathic communication. We found that residents’ self-assessment of their empathic communication to standardized patients in 5 OSCE stations had zero correlation with SP assessments of their empathic communication."
"Our group in Rochester also published a paper in 1997 in which we described the interactional dynamics of empathy, (Suchman AL, Markakis K, Beckman HB, Frankel R. A model of empathic communication in the medical interview. JAMA: the journal of the American Medical Association.1997;277(8):678-682.).
The model was later validated by Hilde Eide (Eide H, Frankel R, Haaversen AC, Vaupel KA, Graugaard PK, Finset A. Listening for feelings: identifying and coding empathic and potential empathic opportunities in medical dialogues. Patient education and counseling. Sep 2004;54(3):291-297)
- "empathic rapport" - the clinician expresses understanding and acceptance of the client's feelings (this is closest to what Brene Brown was describing in the video);
- "experience - near understanding of the client's world" - a deeper understanding of the client's experience or "world". This usually results from exploration of the client's perceptions and reactions, including how the client's past experiences may have shaped their current emotional response; and
- "communicative attunement" - characterized by moment-moment attunement based on reflections or other attempts to understand what the client is trying to communicate.The therapist is actively trying to, not only understand what the client is saying, but also trying to "help the client make sense of their ever-emerging experience."