Understanding Empathy: Can You Feel My Pain. Dr. Friedman begins his piece by quoting a patient who asks if he's ever been depressed; does he know where she's been?
It's a funny question. Why does a doctor need to have suffered from an illness to treat it? We assume our oncologist hasn't had lung cancer or metastatic colon cancer, he hasn't gone through what his patients are going through, and yet we'll assume he's sympathetic and competent. If the doctor has had the disease, or has had a close relative with it (why is that never the question?) then perhaps he is more understanding, but really, how would this help his competence to treat a given disease? In fact, sometimes those who've conquered something are less sympathetic, sometimes those who've conquered say an addiction, or lost weight, or stopped smoking, or have somehow suffered, develop a bit of condescension toward those who aren't doing as well-- a bit of I did it Why can't You? Maybe it's better if the doctor is an outsider, a technician there to make the proper moves without the burden of his own history or agenda.