Could empathy have the power to heal?
The link between stress and susceptibility to illness is fairly well established but what if you could start healing just by going to see your doctor?
Just the experience of being heard and listened to.
Now “power” is a strong word and I don’t want to overstate the case, but there is a study that suggests the way a practitioner approaches a client and the warmth of their relationship actually has something to do with healing.
David P. Rackel, MD and other researchers at the University of Wisconsin looked at the effect that practitioner empathy had on the severity and duration of colds in their patients.
As part of this randomized, controlled experiment, 350 participants had either standard or “enhanced” visits with their physician, with the enhanced visits emphasizing an empathic approach by the physician.
After the visits, participants completed a questionnaire on the physician-patient interaction.
Their cold severity and duration were also measured twice daily.
Those participants whose physicians showed higher levels of empathy had less severe and shorter colds than the participants who scored their physicians lower on empathy.
You can find the entire study in the July-August, 2009 issue of Family Medicine.
What is it about empathy that seems to have this effect?
We don’t really know for sure, but I suspect we’ll find the answer to that question in one or both of the following ways.
It could be a result of mirror neurons (something scientists are just beginning to explore).
And certainly the study suggests epigenetics – that experience turn genes on and off, which affects health outcome.
Studies like this show that the more in-tune we are with our patients, the more we are able to positively influence their healing.
This is one of the reasons that we created the Brain Science Webinar Series.
We speak to many experts in the field of neuroscience who provides us with immediately applicable approaches to use with our clients to enhance their health.
Have you seen the healing possibilities of empathy first hand? Please leave a comment below.