Improve Doctors’ Empathy and Communication Skills with Loving-Kindness Meditation
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“Medicine and meditation, etymologically, come from the same root: to consider, advise, reflect, to take appropriate measures,” – Ronald Epstein
Stress is epidemic in the western workplace with almost two thirds of workers reporting high levels of stress at work. In high stress occupations, like healthcare, the stress can produce fatigue, cynicism, emotional exhaustion, sleep disruption, and professional inefficacy. This not only affects the healthcare providers personally, but also the patients, as it produces a loss of empathy and compassion.
Loving Kindness Meditation is designed to develop kindness and compassion to oneself and others. The individual systematically pictures different individuals from self, to close friends, to enemies and wishes them happiness, well-being, safety, peace, and ease of well-being. It is possible that Loving Kindness Meditation can help to reverse the effects of stress on medical providers and increase their levels of empathy and compassion for their patients and improve their communications with their patients.
In today’s Research News article “Effects of Loving-Kindness Meditation on Doctors’ Mindfulness, Empathy, and Communication Skills.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8069630/ ) Chen and colleagues recruited doctors at a hospital in China who had practiced for at least 3 years and randomly assigned them to receive either a 90-minute Loving Kindness Meditation practice 3 times per week for 8 weeks or to be in a wait-list control condition. They were measured before and after training for mindfulness, empathy, and communication skills.
They found that in comparison to baseline and the wait-list control group, the doctors who received Loving Kindness Meditation had significant increases in empathy and communications skills, but not mindfulness. These results replicate previous findings that Loving Kindness Meditation produces significant improvements in empathy.
This study used a passive control condition (wait-list) which makes the interpretation of results subject to possible confounding explanations such as placebo effects, experimenter bias, Hawthorne effects, etc. Future studies should include an active control condition, e.g. exercise. Nevertheless, the results suggest that practicing Loving Kindness Meditation may improve a physicians ability to understand the emotions of their patients and be better able to communicate with them. This would make them much better doctors and improve patient care and clinical outcomes. It remains for future research to examine if this outcome occurs in actual clinical practice.
So, improve doctors’ empathy and communication skills with Loving-Kindness Meditation.
“Clear communication from doctors may have a healing effect. Studies on pain perception find that, similar to the placebo effect, thoughtfully walking a patient through a procedure that is being administered, or one that will occur in the future, can make them less anxious and more optimistic, leading to less pain.” – Deborah Wip
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Chen, H., Liu, C., Cao, X., Hong, B., Huang, D. H., Liu, C. Y., & Chiou, W. K. (2021). Effects of Loving-Kindness Meditation on Doctors’ Mindfulness, Empathy, and Communication Skills. International journal of environmental research and public health, 18(8), 4033. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18084033
Background: In the context of increasing doctor–patient tensions in China, the objective of this study was to explore and examine the effects of loving-kindness meditation (LKM) on doctors’ mindfulness, empathy, and communication skills. Methods: A total of 106 doctors were recruited from a hospital in China, and randomly divided into an LKM training group (n = 53) and waiting control group (n = 53). The LKM training group received 8 weeks of LKM training intervention, whereas the control group received no intervention. Three major variables (mindfulness, empathy, and communication skills) were measured before (pre-test) and after (post-test) the LKM training intervention. Results: The empathy and communication skills of the LKM group were significantly improved compared with those of the control group, but the level of mindfulness did not significantly change. Conclusions: The results suggested that LKM may contribute to improving physicians’ empathy and communication skills. However, the mechanisms that underlie the effects of the LKM on mindfulness, empathy, and communication skills and other psychological constructs needs further elucidation.