MENTAL HEALTH

Biology undermines clinician empathy

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Science  09 Jan 2015:
Vol. 347, Issue 6218, pp. 142-143
DOI: 10.1126/science.347.6218.142-e

The translation of biological insight into therapeutic success is the Holy Grail of biomedical researchers. In the field of mental health, a clinician's empathy with patients also is a key to successful outcomes. Lebowitz and Ahn show that a focus on biological roots for mental disorders can threaten this empathy and the therapeutic alliance between clinician and patient. Mental health providers were presented with descriptions of patients experiencing depression, social phobia, schizophrenia, or obsessive compulsive disorder. Clinicians expressed more empathy when those descriptions emphasized potential causes that were psychosocial (e.g., aspects of life history) rather than biological (e.g., genetics or neurobiology). The pattern held whether the clinician had more medical training (psychiatry) or less (psychologist or social worker).

Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 10.1073/pnas.1414058111 (2014).

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