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The friendly relationship between therapeutic empathy and person-centered care

Doug Hardman, Jeremy Howick


‘Person-centred care’ and ‘empathy’ are receiving an increasing amount of attention in the healthcare literature. These two concepts are related; however, their relationship has hitherto not been rigorously explored. In this paper we review the differences and commonalities between common definitions of the two concepts. We found that therapeutic empathy requires both interpersonal understanding (achieved via one of several potential means) as well as caring action. We also found that person-centred care could be defined as follows:


Person-centred care is therapeutic empathy (interpersonal understanding and caring action) together with continuity, coordination, teamwork, access and empowerment.


Conceived this way, therapeutic empathy is included within person-centred care, but not vice-versa. There are three important consequences of our analysis. First, empathy training can provide one of the means by which (part of) person-centred care can be achieved. Second, researchers and practitioners can use our analysis of empathy and person-centred care to collaborate in approaches to both research and training. Third, philosophers, who sometimes take empathy to be a foundational concept in interpersonal understanding, can use our findings to inform their work. Finally, we hope to have provided more clarity not just on the relationship between empathy and person-centred care, but also on the nature of those two individual concepts.


Empathy, integrative care, interpersonal understanding, patient-clinician communication, person-centered healthcare, therapeutic empathy

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