Stigmatization of patients with chronic pain: the extinction of empathy

Pain Med. 2011 Nov;12(11):1637-43. doi: 10.1111/j.1526-4637.2011.01264.x. Epub 2011 Nov 4.


Objective: To address how health professionals may inadvertently contribute to the stigmatization of patients with chronic pain.

Setting: Formulation and implementation of the Australian National Pain Strategy.

Design: Review of current concepts of stereotyping and stigma, consideration of their relationship to empathy, and how they might impinge upon the clinical encounter.

Findings: The extinction of empathy, which we refer to as "negative empathy," can overwhelm health professionals, allowing the entry of negative community stereotypes of chronic pain sufferers and add to their stigmatization. Prevailing dualistic frames of reference encourage this process.

Conclusion: Greater awareness by health professionals of their own potential, often inadvertent, contribution to the stigmatization of their patients with chronic pain may serve as a basis for an expanded model of clinical engagement.

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Australia
  • Chronic Pain / physiopathology
  • Chronic Pain / psychology*
  • Empathy*
  • Humans
  • Stereotyping*
  • Syndrome