The Empathic Healer

An Endangered Species?


  • Michael Bennett, Harvard Medical School, Belmont, Massachusetts, U.S.A.

Empathy has long been regarded as central to the art of medicine and especially to the practice of psychotherapy. The ability of a therapist to appreciate the patient's state of mind and frame of reference is the foundation of a therapeutic alliance and key to the process of healing. However, these subjective aspects of practice are rendered suspect by today's emphasis on objectivity: formal diagnosis, with biological treatments, and standardized methodologies that appear to be aimed more at disease than at the person who suffers from it. Pressured by the practice climate and by the advances of science, practitioners have become treatment specialists and the empathic healer has become an endangered species.In this book, the author establishes a new foundation for the use and value of clinical empathy that is based on a distinction between treatment and healing and a model for using psychotherapy as a component of an organized system of care: focused, attuned to the patient's presenting motive, and consistent with our understanding of the relationship between mind and brain. Practicing mental health professionals and students find the rationale for assessment and treatment planning in The Empathic Healer an invaluable aide as they seek to adapt to the marvelous discoveries about how the brain shapes and recovers from mental disorder, and how an empathic environment fosters recovery and healing within and beyond the treatment setting.
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Clinical psychologists, psychiatrists, and social workers.


Book information

  • Published: March 2001
  • ISBN: 978-0-12-088662-3


"...Bennett broadens our understanding of the dimensions of empathy as it has been referred to historically and across related scientific fields. In an interesting and erudite way, he gives the clinician historical grounding in the aesthetic origin of the concept of empathy all the way to the current linkage to recent biological research. In doing so, he makes a greater case for the importance of the empathic healer... The beginning therapist, whether social worker, psychologist, or pychiatrist, will find this book useful in providing a very basic foundation to conducting therapy and enriching their identities as therapist and healer... Bennett brings us back to the fundamentals of how to provide an effective, humane therapy experience for our clients, whatever length the therapy will be... he advises the therapist to collaborate with significant people who would potentiate the healing process and to assist in enriching the patient's "healing environment..." therapists will appreciate that his approach... can be easily adapted to one's current style." —CONTEMPORARY PSYCHOLOGY "The Empathic Healer: An Endangered Species? offers a wide-ranging exploration of the concept of empathy along iwth a vigorous advocacy of empathy as a possible healing poultice to soothe both the fractures between biologic and psychotherapeutic approaches to mental disorders and the many fissures in the current confucsion of health care systems. This is a rich book... The Empathic Healer is well organized and well written... The text is amply documented, offers relevant case vignettes, and is spiced by classical illustrations and literary quotations. I recommend it to all mental health care professionals." —PSYCHIATRIC SERVICES "Bennett examines the concept and practice of empathy in the field of psychotherapy and medicine. He covers the history and evolution of psycotherapy in an intelligent and balanced manner, focusing on empathy as it operates in the clinical setting. The outcome is a well-crafted and unbiased portrayal of the strengths and weaknesses of the practice. Bennett advocates an approach where the scientific and humanistic aspects can be integrated. His work exemplifies wisdom in exploring classic and contemporary theory and then giving practical, positive advice. Bennett's years of experience are evident in the text, as he merges philosophy and practice. Although he is open to the dynamic changes in life, Bennett stays well grounded in integrity. Well-researched and documented with references and index, the book is highly recommended for collections supporting the study of psychotherapy and health care at the graduate level and above. It will be especially useful to practitioners in the field."
—CHOICE "In a "must-read" book that traces the evolution of psychiatric practice from the psychoanalytic movement into managed care, Michael J. Bennett, a Harvard-trained psychiatrist who played a major role in the early development of idealistically driven managed care health systems, argues that the heart (and soul) of psychiatry is human empathy... The Empathic Healer leads the reader into the world of human understanding and reminds us of the essential nature of our practice: understanding the helping another human being whose subjective experience is disordered... I strongly recommend The Empathic Healer: An Endangered Species? to all psychiatrists. It is a beautifully written, clinically wise meditation on an essential aspect of our clinical practice that has become eroded in recent years." —JOURNAL OF CLINICAL PSYCHIATRY "Far from being a "woe is us" account of how managed care has destroyed the doctor-patient relationship and is at the core of all that's wrong with healthcare, Michael J. Bennett's book offers hope that psychotherapy can survive--and maybe even improve--in today's time-limited scenario...Given the realities of a limited budget to serve an entire population's mental health needs, Bennett offers a heartfelt plea for offering limited service to the many (rather than much service to the many; much service to a select few; or limited service a few). Dotted with anecdotes of specific doctor-patient encounters, his work offers hope that today's therapists can overcome obstacles and maintain their humanity." —BEHAVIORAL HEALTHCARE TOMORROW "The Empathic Healer: An Endangered Species? by Michael Bennett, M.D. is an important book, and is must reading for those interested in how psychological healing occurs. It is more than a book on empathy. It is a comprehensive mediation on what it means to be a healer in this day and age. Bennett covers such topics as the history of empathy and "empathy and the brain." He gives a comprehensive holistic mind-body perspective, which does not oversimplify the role of either, and discusses the role of empathy in a biological age. He also emphasizes the idea of therapy as the promotion of client self-healing and provides a model of how empathy promotes that. Bennett also discusses the pressing issues concerning evidence-based practice. Most importantly, Bennett covers the role of the empathic healer in the climate of the current health care system, which he says has lost its heart. And finally he presents a new view of psychotherapy, which he calls "focal psychotherapy." Overall, Bennett's discussion is theoretically sophisticated and science-based. I learned a great deal from reading this book." —Aurther C. Bohart, Professor of Psychology, California State University The Empathic Healer is a gem of a book! With a humanism and sensitivity befitting his subject, Bennett offers us a most timely, realistic, wise and practical approach to preserving the empathic core of the healer's art. With great parsimony and clarity, Bennett traces the critical role of empathy in all healing professions. No mere polemic or "feel-good" exercise, this remarkable book, buttressed by illustrative clinical examples, synthesizes both the science and the art of the essential relationship between patient and therapist that promotes healing. This book is a "must read" for all those on the edge of despair over changes in today's health care system; it offers hope, optimism, and restored joy in the preservation of the core values of one's demanding and important work." —Don R. Lipsitt, M.D., Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School

Table of Contents

The Health Care System Has Lost its Heart.The History of Empathy in Mental Health Care.Empathy and the Listening Healer.Empathy: Facilitators and Barriers.Empathy and Ideology.Empathy and the Brain.Treaters and Healers.Empathy and the Focus of Psychotherapy.Focal Psychotherapy.Empathy Redux.Bibliography.Index.