Business scholars for more than 20 years have explored the concept of emotional labor, or the management of emotions to present a certain image in service workers. Now, researchers from the University of Washington Business School and Group Health Cooperative have teamed up to explore how the concept can be applied to the medical profession.
"We propose that the emotional labor of physicians is characterized by the display of empathy," said Dr. Eric B. Larson, director of Group Healths Center for Health Studies and co- author of a commentary in the March 2 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. "Empathy is essential to healing relationships, so its something all health professionals should be expected to show – even when its hard to do so."
Drawing from previous research that equates service workers labor to the work of stage actors, Larson and co-author Xin Yao, a doctoral student in the UW Business School, describe a model for applying acting techniques to the delivery of empathy in doctor-patient interactions. They suggest that doctors use two techniques separately or in combination – deep acting, which uses imagination and emotional memories to generate genuine feelings of empathy for the patient, and surface acting, in which the doctor forges emotional expressions inconsistent with internal feelings. This would allow the doctor to display behaviors the patient can interpret as empathic.
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