A heuristic model of enactive compassion

Curr Opin Support Palliat Care. 2012 Jun;6(2):228-35. doi: 10.1097/SPC.0b013e3283530fbe.


Purpose of review: This article is an investigation of the possibility that compassion is not a discrete feature but an emergent and contingent process that is at its base enactive. Compassion must be primed through the cultivation of various factors. This article endeavors to identify interdependent components of compassion. This is particularly relevant for those in the end-of-life care professions, wherein compassion is an essential factor in the care of those suffering from a catastrophic illness or injury. The Halifax Model of Compassion is presented here as a new vision of compassion with particular relevance for the training of compassion in clinicians.

Recent findings: Compassion is generally valued as a prosocial mental quality. The factors that foster compassion are not well understood, and the essential components of compassion have not been sufficiently delineated. Neuroscience research on compassion has only recently begun, and there is little clinical research on the role of compassion in end-of-life care.

Summary: Compassion is in general seen as having two main components: the affective feeling of caring for one who is suffering and the motivation to relieve suffering. This definition of compassion might impose limitations and will, therefore, have consequences on how one trains compassion in clinicians and others. It is the author's premise that compassion is dispositionally enactive (the interactions between living organisms and their environments, i.e., the propensity toward perception-action in relation to one's surrounds), and it is a process that is contingent and emergent.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Emotions*
  • Empathy*
  • Humans
  • Philosophy, Medical
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Terminal Care*