Empathy… The ability to put yourself in someone else’s place… There are two kinds, understanding or reading the emotions of the other person (cognitive empathy) or feeling them (emotional empathy)…

Sympathy on the other hand means wishing happiness for the other person, and it also requires a kind of empathy. Have you ever been the receiver of empathic act? I your answer is “yes”, it was probably an unforgettable moment… You bond with the person who shows empathy towards you. You love them. And if that person wishes your happiness your bond becomes even stronger. You particularly want your passions and suffering to be understood. Empathy is important for everyone but in our profession it is even more significant. Every doctor is expected to feel empathy but for psychiatrists it is even more so. I always warn medical students during the lessons; I tell them that the ability to empathise is essential, and if they do not have it I suggest they either give up their pursuit of this profession or get treatment. Because in almost all personality disorders, with psychopathy at the top of the list, and in some psychiatric diseases this ability gets lost. Under normal conditions empathy does not only make the other person happy, it also carries the professional satisfaction of the doctor to the summit. It is possible to test the ability to empathise. Some claim that it is inborn, that in fact there are special neurons (mirror neurons) in the brain for this. On the other hand, I believe it can be learned from the mother and father and developed after birth. As long as there is the desire to gain happiness from the happiness of other people. This I believe is the essence of the matter. In short, if you want to test yourself, look at your past, and ask yourself if you ever felt the emotions of another. Try and remind yourself: “Was I able to get across to the other person that I felt what he felt? Did I read gratification in his eyes?” Then go one step further: Do you have the ability to foresee what the other will feel before he even feels it? If your answer to all of these is “yes”, you are a very lucky person and so are those who have you as an acquaintance. Lastly I want to tell you of an example for empathy that I myself experienced, and then I want to end this rather technical article… I had a patient who was HIV positive. He claimed that it was an insignificant problem and that it could be treated successfully. He was talking about the subject in a very superficial tone of voice. I felt that he felt deep anxiety and pain but was masking it. I requested an EEG and an MR. Reviewing the test results I said: “Everything looks normal, there is no sign of illness in your brain!”… He sighed deeply, and it was an unforgettable moment for me to see the joy of live in his eyes. Words do not suffice to explain the satisfaction I felt from making my patient happy.

Prof. Dr. Kemal Arıkan