Give therapists and psychiatrists information about the biology of a mental disorder, and they have less – not more – empathy for the patient, a new Yale study shows.
The findings released Dec. 1 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, challenge the notion that biological explanations for mental illness boost compassion for the tens of millions of Americans who suffer from mental-health problems.
Conventional wisdom suggests that biological explanations for psychiatric symptoms should reduce the blame patients receive for their behavior by making genes and brain cells the culprits. This, in turn, should increase feelings of compassion.
In a series of studies, U.S. clinicians read descriptions of patients whose symptoms were explained using information that focused on either genetics and neurobiology or on childhood experiences and stressful life circumstances. Among other questions, the clinicians were asked how much compassion they felt for the individual, an essential element of therapy.
The clinicians consistently expressed less empathy and compassion for the patient when his or her symptoms were explained using biological factors, the researchers found.
That’s worrying .