Grasping the Existential Anatomy: The Role of Bodily Empathy in Clinical Communication

  • Carl Edvard Rudebeck
Part of the Philosophy and Medicine book series (PHME, volume 68)


The aim of this contribution is to give some clarity to “body experience”: the ways it unfolds in the experiences, presentations, and reception of presentations of symptoms in the clinic. The idea behind this venture is that the apparently self-evident notion that symptoms are about body experiences results in “body experience” attracting less attention than called for by its actual importance. Since symptom presentations are usually thought to be the unequivocal expressions of the situation in the body, the possible pathology lying behind a certain symptom tends to become more intriguing to medicine than the experience itself. In the consultation the doctor tends to observe the symptom presentation and judge whether it falls within preconceived disease categories, rather than share it. This attitude incurs two immediate risks. First, the doctor’s apprehension of what the patient presents may be shallow, leading to misunderstandings of various extent and importance even from a diagnostic point of view. Second, the patient may feel the doctor lacks interest in her particular situation, causing her to withdraw, which, in turn, may threaten the outcome of the consultation. On a broader scale, the scant attention paid to body experience limits the competence of doctors. If we establish a way of “thinking” body experience that is in consonance with its real character in the life of the individual, doctors may have a frame of reference that will make it easier for them to become attuned to, and learn from, symptom presentations. They will also have a more explicit reference for the experience of their own bodies, thus increasing their self-awareness and enabling them more fully to grasp the experiences of their patients. At the level of the medical profession, the “cases” of clinical discourse may be transformed from the anonymity of diseases to the particular experience of the individual, but still with the focus on the body. Lastly, the gap between practice and the reflection on practice may be narrowed. It is especially important for a practice-based discipline like family medicine/general practice to make practice itself the core of professional reflection.


Symptom Presentation Lateral Geniculate Nucleus Body Language Body Awareness Body Experience 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • Carl Edvard Rudebeck
    • 1
  1. 1.VästervikSweden

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