Empathy and the Mind-Body Problem (5)

Continuing the story of Carla’s uncontrolled vomiting, I had concluded that it was due to her fear of divine retribution for having a child outside of a marriage and then giving the child up for adoption.  She feared that God would punish her by causing her unborn second child to be malformed or diseased.

Relieving her fear could only be accomplished in the context of her belief system.  Empathy skill was essential to comprehending that system since my personal beliefs are significantly different.  My thoughts kept returning to the biggest discrepancy in our views of her life: I saw the adoption as a selfless act for the benefit of her child and she looked upon it as a personal failure and a terrible sin.  So I asked her to consider the parallels between giving her son to another family and her belief that God gave his Son to humanity so that everyone involved could have a better life.  Were they not similar acts?  It was many years ago, but I still remember how her careworn face began to appear hopeful as she considered this idea.  She left the hospital the following day and delivered a healthy child a few months later.

There is no question that improving empathic ability in medical clinicians (and mental health professionals) is essential to solving the Mind-Body Problem.  But can you improve empathic skill by teaching?  More in the next post.

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