Johanna Shapiro, Ph.D.
It is often argued that medical humanities, including literature and poetry, can help encourage attitudes of compassion , connection and empathy in patient care. Compassion is distinguished from empathy (a cognitive and affective experience) by its emphasis on action in response to another’s suffering. Empathy provides the essential soil for such action through its capacity for understanding (as opposed to just pitying or feeling sympathy for) another’s suffering. Yet empathy has also been criticized because of the difficulty of entering fully into another’s perspective; and for its selective manifestations (i.e., certain patients generate empathy more easily than others in healthcare professionals).