Journal of Applied Linguistics and Professional Practice, Vol 7, No 2 (2010)

Empathy as ‘appraisal’: A new language-based approach to the exploration of clinical empathy

Gabrina Pounds
Issued Date: 8 Nov 2011


It is widely argued that empathy can and should be taught as part of medical training and attempts have been made to incorporate the teaching of empathy in medical school programmes of study. Empathy, however, is particularly difficult to define and measure. Various definitions and rating scales have been used but no systematic overview of the potential verbal realisation of empathy has so far been produced. This study is concerned with providing such an overview. The existing consultation training material aimed at medical professionals (e.g. Piasecky, 2003; Silverman et al. 2005 and Moulton, 2007) and relevant linguistic studies (Suchman et al. 1997; Wynn and Wynn, 2006 and Martinovsky et al. 2007) form the basis for the exploration of relevant dimensions of empathy and its potential verbal realisation. The ‘appraisal’ framework (Martin and White, 2005) developed within a systemic functional approach to discourse analysis is then used to help build a provisional framework of the levels of attitudinal (particularly, affective) expression inherent in empathic communication. Suggestions are made as to how the validity of the expressive categories identified may be tested and further refined and how the insights from this study may be applied within the medical context.

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DOI: 10.1558/japl.v7i2.145


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