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Book Forum: Psychotherapies   |    
The Empathic Healer: An Endangered Species?
JOSHUA GROSSMAN, M.D.
Am J Psychiatry 2003;160:401-402. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.160.2.401
View Author and Article Information
Johnson City, Tenn.

By Michael J. Bennett. San Diego, Calif., Academic Press, 2001, 260 pp., $44.95.

Glen Gabbard (1) defined empathic validation as "a demonstration of the therapist’s empathic attunement with the patient’s internal state" and stated that "empathic immersion in the patient’s internal state is essential." In this beautifully presented text printed on acid-free paper, Harvard Professor Bennett refers to Picasso’s "Mother and Child" (1901), Shakespeare, and the Bible.

Canst thou not minister to a mind diseased, Pluck from the memory a rooted sorrow, Raze out the written troubles of the brain, And with some sweet oblivious antidote Cleanse the stuffed bosom of the perilous stuff Which weighs upon the heart? (Macbeth, act V, scene iii)

In my distress I called upon the Lord, and cried unto my God: he heard my voice out of his temple, and my cry came before Him, even into His ears. (Psalm 18:6)

Might the common theme of his selections from Shakespeare, scripture, and art represent our searching for empathic validation? Further, Professor Bennett cites American literature of the 20th century (2) to show that dissatisfaction with heavy caseloads and discontent among health care providers are nothing new:

"Sixty patients an afternoon! That’s what we handle! Sixty! Two or three operations every morning. Calls at night. And sixty patients an afternoon."

"Sixty! But you can’t…"

"No, you can’t possibly do them justice. That’s right. All you can do is treat their symptoms. The ones you don’t miss. A pill here, a prod there, adhesive tape, tonic, soothing lotions, keep ‘em going. Just dab a little on and keep ‘em going. That’s not Medicine, Ave. That’s not Medicine. And every patient I handle I know it’s wrong. It’s dead wrong, and I’m doing it, and my guts turn over." (Not As a Stranger[2])

Throughout this valued text, Professor Bennett shares his appreciation and understanding of the Yiddish language. From his poetic tribute in the preface to his mentor, Richard Nesson, M.D. ("And well we’ll remember the lessons of Nesson he taught us while fressin’ on delicatessin") to his discussion of the difficulties in achieving a translation of Yiddish into English when citing the healing effect of the welcoming of a bereaved young man into a synagogue, those congregants becoming his mishpocheh, which might be translated into "clan" or "extended family." To return to the poetic dedication, fressin’ was appropriately and correctly left untranslated because its direct translation, albeit challenging, might well be "overeating," which might be perceived in English to be either uncomplimentary and/or politically incorrect. My very dear friend and esteemed colleague, the late Dennis Patrick Cantwell, M.D. (3), understood the political correctness of Yiddish in our American lexicon when he said, "We give medication to the child to clear up the mishigos" (4, my italics). Professor Cantwell, of beloved memory, knew well the potentially politically incorrect English translations of mishigos, which might include "silly," "strange," "idiosyncratic," or, according to Weinriech (5), "crazy" and therefore wisely chose to present the Yiddish without translation.

Professor Bennett shares his feelings regarding anti-Semitism in his patients enhanced by his own personal visit to the Nazi death camp Dachau. Professor Bennett also presents case histories documenting his own successful, sensitive, caring, and effective work in alleviating the special suffering of adult children of Holocaust survivors.

Professor Bennett addresses the issue of case formulation from the perspective of both the patient and the health care provider. This discussion of case formulation will be of considerable value to psychiatry residents as well as medical students rotating through psychiatry in view of the recognized value of case formulation in examination preparation as well as in ongoing treatment and patient care (6).

The Empathic Healer is recommended reading for all health care providers interested in renewing their focus on "healing rather than curing" (7).

Mazel tov to Prof. Michael J. Bennett!

Gabbard G: Psychodynamic Psychiatry in Clinical Practice, 3rd ed. Washington, DC, American Psychiatric Press, 2000, pp 97-98
 
Thompson M: Not As a Stranger. New York, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1954
 
Grossman JB: Dennis Patrick Cantwell, MD, 1939-1997 (image, psych). Am J Psychiatry  2001; 158:546
[CrossRef]
 
Cantwell D: Child and Adolescent Psychiatry: Best of the Board Reviews—Psychiatry. Irvine, Calif, CME, 1995 (audiotapes)
 
Weinriech U: English-Yiddish, Yiddish-English Dictionary. New York, McGraw-Hill, 1968
 
Fauman M: Information and psychiatry: formulating a case. Psychiatr Times, Dec 2002, pp 10-12
 
Remen R: Kitchen Table Wisdom. New York, Riverhead Books, 1996
 
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References

Gabbard G: Psychodynamic Psychiatry in Clinical Practice, 3rd ed. Washington, DC, American Psychiatric Press, 2000, pp 97-98
 
Thompson M: Not As a Stranger. New York, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1954
 
Grossman JB: Dennis Patrick Cantwell, MD, 1939-1997 (image, psych). Am J Psychiatry  2001; 158:546
[CrossRef]
 
Cantwell D: Child and Adolescent Psychiatry: Best of the Board Reviews—Psychiatry. Irvine, Calif, CME, 1995 (audiotapes)
 
Weinriech U: English-Yiddish, Yiddish-English Dictionary. New York, McGraw-Hill, 1968
 
Fauman M: Information and psychiatry: formulating a case. Psychiatr Times, Dec 2002, pp 10-12
 
Remen R: Kitchen Table Wisdom. New York, Riverhead Books, 1996
 
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