BSP Podcast: Eugenia Stefanello on Empathy, Narrative Medicine, and Illness

podcast update

This episode of the BSP Podcast sees Eugenia Stefanello presenting a paper from our 2022 annual conference, ‘Engaged Phenomenology II’.

Season 6 episode 139: 15 May 2024

Season 6 continues with another presentation from our 2022 annual conference, Engaged Phenomenology II: Explorations of Embodiment, Emotions, and Spatiality. This episode features a presentation from Eugenia Stefanello, University of Padova.

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Eugenia Stefanello
‘Empathy, Narrative Medicine, and (Mis)Representation of Illness: A Phenomenological Perspective’

It is often argued that mutual understanding is crucial in clinical encounters. In particular, narrative medicine proponents strongly believe that through mutual understanding and doctors’ narrative skills it is possible to increase both empathy in the doctor-patient relationship and affiliation within the community of healthcare professionals (Charon, 2017; DasGupta & Charon, 2004). However, although empathy appears to be one of the main aims of narrative medicine, it has not been extensively analyzed by its supporters. For this reason, I argue that narrative medicine should discuss on the one hand what the role of empathy is in narrative medicine’s proposal and, on the other hand, what kind of empathy should be involved in the clinical encounter. In this regard, I show that if the type of empathy involved in narrative medicine is understood as synonymous with the doctors’ ability to simulate the patients’ perspectives as proposed by Simulation Theory (Goldman, 2006), narrative medicine and the clinical encounter can be negatively impacted (Gallagher, 2007). In addition, when empathy is reduced to a simulation-plus-projection mechanism, it can not only radicalize the other’s alterity triggering possible harm towards others (Bubandt & Willerslev, 2015) but also disregard whether and how deeply people want or need to share their perspectives and ignore the situatedness of the empathic understanding exacerbating existing inequalities (Hollan, 2008, 2017). Finally, I suggest that narrative medicine should explore alternative accounts of empathy. Specifically, the phenomenological approach (Scheler, 1913; Stein, 1917) offers one that is multifaceted and layered in which empathy has a specific but partial role in understanding others (Throop & Zahavi, 2020). Accordingly, I will try to show that phenomenological empathy seems able to provide healthcare professionals guidance to improve their narrative skills and achieve the ultimate goal of affiliation, without having to face the objections raised against a simulationist concept of empathy (Vendrell Ferran, 2015; Zahavi, 2014).

Biography: Eugenia Stefanello is a PhD Student in Philosophy at the Department of Philosophy, Sociology, Education and Applied Psychology (FISPPA), University of Padova, Italy. Her research focuses on Phenomenology, Moral Philosophy, Bioethics, and Philosophy of Mind with a particular interest in empathy and its influence on the deliberative process.

Further Information:

This recording is taken from our Annual UK Conference 2022: Engaged Phenomenology II: Explorations of Embodiment, Emotions, and Sociality (Exeter, UK / Hybrid) with the University of Exeter. Sponsored by the Wellcome Centre, Egenis, and the Shame and Medicine project. For the conference our speakers either presented in person at Exeter or remotely to people online and in-room, and the podcast episodes are recorded from the live broadcast feeds.

The British Society for Phenomenology is a not-for-profit organisation set up with the intention of promoting research and awareness in the field of Phenomenology and other cognate arms of philosophical thought. Currently, the society accomplishes these aims through its journal, events, and podcast. Why not find out more, join the society, and subscribe to our journal the JBSP?