Research

What does compassion sound like?

Here’s a great  study from Ron Epstein documenting what words and non-verbal behaviour convey compassion:

“In health care, we believe in being compassionate but the reality is that many of us have a preference for technical and biomedical issues over establishing emotional ties,” said senior investigator Ronald Epstein, M.D., professor of Family Medicine, Psychiatry, Oncology, and Nursing and director of the UR Center for Communication and Disparities Research.

Epstein is a national and international keynote speaker and investigator on mindfulness and communication in medical education.

His team recruited 23 oncologists from a variety of private and hospital-based oncology clinics in the Rochester, N.Y., area. The doctors and their stage III or stage IV cancer patients volunteered to be recorded during routine visits. Researchers then analyzed the 49 audio-recorded encounters that took place between November 2011 and June 2012, and looked for key observable markers of compassion.

In contrast to empathy — another quality that Epstein and his colleagues have studied in the medical community — compassion involves a deeper and more active imagination of the patient’s condition. An important part of this study, therefore, was to identify examples of the three main elements of compassion: recognition of suffering, emotional resonance, and movement towards addressing suffering.

Read more about the insights developed by the researchers, including the use of humour.

Image: “AKG K550 Loud” by Michael Heigl

One Response to “What does compassion sound like?”

  1. Sue Macdonald says:

    This was a really interesting article which HiH pointed to. When you look at the words that clinicians were using, and the interactions, it felt (like many complex things!) -so simple and ‘common sense’ but highlighted the importance of developing a warm relationship between clinician and patient, and allowing time to talk and listen.

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