Tuesday, July 26, 2022

What’s the difference between empathy versus compassion for our patients

Empathy risk “burning you out” due to fusion with painful feelings or suffering. Compassion doesn’t. From a counseling point of view, it’s important to differentiate that.

So what is the difference?

I think empathy is more about picking up the feelings of others, and then share that space with them to “share the burden”. Often two people will be suffering as a result if that “suffering” albeit a “shared load”. As a Doctor, if we do this too much, it will be very draining especially if you times it by 2 or more patients every working day.

Compassion is more about “activating” or “bring on” a feeling of compassion, care or kindness to hold the other person’s suffering. In this way, we walk away with feelings of care and compassion rather than the suffering. We use compassion to “neutralize” or “hold space” for the suffering, rather than trying to take it away. Taking it away may be great short term, but not so great long term.

This is more sustainable long term for the mental health and well-being of the carer, and at the same time, may also empower the “sufferer” to shift with compassion and kindness. 

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