The meaning of empathy and imagination in health care and health studies

Article English OPEN
Alma, Hans A. ; Smaling, Adri (2006)
  • Publisher: Co-Action Publishing
  • Journal: International Journal of Qualitative Studies on Health and Well-being (issn: 1748-2631)
  • Related identifiers: doi: 10.3402/qhw.v1i4.4934

Some philosophers of science and social scientists disapprove of using empathy in human inquiry. Empathy would be neither sufficient nor necessary for understanding another person. In this article, the insufficiency of empathy will be recognized, but the necessity of empathy for interpersonal understanding in everyday life, situations of professional care, and certain forms of human inquiry, especially qualitative research, will be supported. However, empathic understanding should not be conceived as pure psychic identification, but rather as putting oneself imaginatively into the experiential world of another person with the aim to understand the other. Emotional resonance is not only an early phase of it, but also a basic facet. A comprehensive conceptualization of empathic understanding is developed, which makes empathy more worthwhile in professional contexts. Empathic understanding is conceived as a two-dimensional concept. The mental dimension refers to affective, cognitive, and interpretive facets or phases of empathic understanding and the social dimension refers to expressive, responsive, and interactive facets or phases of empathic understanding. These two dimensions are crosswise combined and the most optimal form of empathic understanding is called "dialogical-hermeneutical empathic understanding." In addition, the importance of imagination and the development of it for optimal empathic understanding are elaborated. Key words: Empathy, health care, dialogical hermeneutics, imagination, philosophy of science, qualitative methodology
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