Predictions and Trends in Empathy for 2015

Looking for patterns, this top ten list engages trends, innovations, and surprises that promote or narrow the expansion of empathy in the community. By definition, empathy is knowing what the other feels because I feel it too; not as a merger, but as a vicarious experience such as one has in the theatre, movies, or reading a novel.

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Predictions in Empathy 2015

  1. A rumor of empathy at Sony. And a rumor of empathy for Sony. In this case, the people at Sony and in corporate America have experienced fear – with a capital “F”. They have also experienced disappointment in the initial lack of backbone on the ground in the network of distributors for the film. Speaking personally, I did not even know that I want to see the movie [The Interview] until someone told me that I could not do so. I do not go in for that sort of dumb, Austin Powers humor; but I definitely want to see this flick. My prediction? Within twelve months, The Interview will be the most viewed movie on the planet. (You heard it here first.)
  1. Empathy will be honored and given lip service: but the resistance to empathy will be sustained by institutional compliance and conformity, individual territoriality, and reluctance to be vulnerable or take risks. Prediction: Resistance to empathy will cause people to do a “double take” and examine their own inauthenticity around respecting boundaries and building community.
  1. All power to health care insurers. “Behavioral health” insurers will continue to collect monopoly rents, imposing double digit premium increases, even as additional regulation such as Obamacare requires insurers to include reimbursements for counseling and therapy. In the face of healthcare consumer requests for “quick fixes,” the pressure to prescribe psychotropically will continue and increase. In a market for behavioral health under stress from insurers, client demands for quick fixes, and alternative therapeutic modalities, practitioners will become more territorial, fail to act generously and graciously on behalf of colleagues, and fall into the “beggar they neighbor” behavior that risks the collapse of professional courtesy. Psychologists who lobby with the government to prescribe and are granted permission will find that their liability (“malpractice”) insurance rates increase by up to an order of magnitude. The “speaking truth to power” of the anti-psychiatry movement will gain even more traction in the community.
  1. The unexamined life is not worth living – as the philosopher Socrates famously said in Plato’s Apology. Examining one’s life from the perspective of meaningful satisfaction and contribution to the community will become even more of a priority than it already is. “Plato not Prozac,” the title of a book by Lou Marinoff (2000) becomes even more of a rallying cry. The pendulum between examining the unexamined life using empathy and dulling one’s senses with Prozac (and related substances) will swing back in the direction of Socrates and Plato – and empathy.
  1. Occupy Psychiatry. Psychiatrics will discover that they can make even more money be titrating people off of psychotropic drugs as by putting people on them. Many of the bad jokes about lawyers that end with the punch-line “Billable hours!” have migrated in the direction of psychiatrists prescribing medications to people who demand to feel better right now (even though it does not work that way). However, this is a revenue opportunity – getting people off of medications safely and responsibly – that will be eye-opening and win-win for prescribers everywhere.
  1. Dynamic psychotherapy and psychoanalysis resurgent. These will enjoy a renewed resurgence and flourishing. But unless therapists seize the opportunity, speak up, and engage with the community in a way that addresses emotional suffering, violent behavior, wounded warriors, and the needs of the disempowered, this will only be an uptick in an otherwise slow long term downward trend.
  1. Resurgence of short term psychoanalysis. Psychoanalytic treatment lasting days, weeks or months, not years – will be launched even in the face of resistance by The Old Guard, who will back channel to thwart such efforts organizationally, legally, and individually.
  1. The epidemic of violence perpetrated by untreated or under-treated young men, wounded warriors, and seriously disturbed individuals expressing their suffering by pretending to be Jihadists will continue unabated. This is not new but is gaining renewed media attention and data analysis. The demand for empathy services and training will escalate to meet the demand for interventions to detect and stop escalation before it occurs in the community, in the medical establishment, and most importantly, among first responders and law enforcement organizations.
  1. Expanded empathic moments in the struggle against domestic violence. Men will speak out even more loudly and provide leadership against domestic violence. As of this writing, domestic violence and gender violence have exploded onto the front pages with the high profile cases of Ray Rice and Tyreek Hill. Once again, this is not new news but has been just beneath the surface and underreported because it is so confronting. While women have provided the leadership and will continue to do so, powerful men will step up and provide guidance to their fellow about proper boundaries and respect for them in relationships. This is ongoing. What is new: powerful men step up and speak out and provide leadership among men in establishing respect for boundaries in creating communication, affection, and affinity.
  1. People will look for alternatives to traditional medical modes of therapy and find limited comfort in spirituality, the heirs of the human potential movement such as LandmarkEducation, peer-oriented support groups (a potentially positive and breakthrough approach) such as PFLAG (Parents and Families of Lesbian and Gay children), becoming engaged in the community. Put “empathy consulting” – guidance in how to expand empathy individually and in the community – on the list.
  1. A rumor of empathy in Big Pharma After the debunking of the DSM completed by Chris Lane (2007), Big Pharma has a real opportunity to redeem itself in the eyes of the community. There is probably no other group of organizations of the planet that can do it. A crash project. High risk. Utterly urgent. No, not a new psychotropic intervention. Ebola. Treatments, vaccinations, innovations. The stakes are high, and it many actually require innovations at the FDA, CDC, and the US Congress (a high bar indeed) to enable treatments to be trialed without the usual ten year plus long protocols (which are usually appropriate but not in this case). We’d all be most beholden’.
  1. High profile apologies and resignations. Watch for what I am calling “A Lord Acton Moment”. Lord Acton was a politician and historian who famously said: “Power tends to corrupt; and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” A rumor of empathy will give way to a scandal of empathy as the lack of leadership (and empathy) at major institutions – educational, psychoanalytic, mental health, and governmental – exposes constituencies to the controlling, manipulating and dominating forces of emotional jihadists, life’s stresses, and fantasy relationships on social media. Now there is nothing wrong with compliance. By all means pay your taxes and follow the rules. Compliance will expand until we realize that what we need is not more compliance but rather expanded empathy.
  1. Mirror neurons are dead; long live mirror neurons. As a scientific hypothesis, the existence and operation of mirror neurons has formed the basis for empathy and empathy-like phenomena such as contagious laughing, yawning, emotional contagion, and body language.  There has been skepticism about a mechanism so simple and elegant as mirror neurons whereby person (or monkey) A sees person (or monkey B) angle and drink from a cup and the same mirror neurons are activated in the observer as in the actor. This forms the basis for a basic level of understanding what the other individual is doing. It is elaborated in more complex forms of understanding such as empathy and altruism. This has triggered literally thousands of scientific publications based on functional magnetic resonance imaging studies. Some of these have been debunked in skeptical publications such as “Vodoo Correlations in MRI Research” (Vul et al 2009) and The Myth of Mirror Neurons (Hickok 2014).  However, even if the role of mirror neurons turns out to be inaccurate or incomplete, the point has been made. There is an underlying neuro-chemical process that implements empathy and related affective communications. Human beings (and higher mammals) are connected – related – by an underlying physiological mechanism that operates at a distance to attach us to one another affectively. Finding out what that mechanism is and how it works is still a work-in-progress in the coming year and period ahead. We are all related to one another now and going forward.

Listen to the replay of Lou’s “on the air” conversations with empathy trend setters in the community of VoiceAmerica Empowerment radio: A Rumor of Empathy: click here to play or replay 

Short Bibliography

Hickok, Gregory. (2014). The Myth of Mirror Neurons. New York: Norton.

Lane, Christopher. (2007). Shyness: How Normal Behavior Became a Sickness. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Marinoff, Lou. (2000). Plato Not Prozac! New York: Quill Publishing, 2000.

Vul, Edward and Christine Harris, Piotr Winkielman, Harold Pashler. (2009). “Puzzlingly high correlations in fMRI studies of emotions, personality, and social cognition,” Perspective on Psychological Science 4, no. 3 (2009): 274-290

Other Resources Listed Against Domestic Violence:

PFLAG: http://www.pflagillinois.org

Other Resources Listed Against Domestic Violence:

www.ApnaGhar.org “Our Home”

A Rumor of Empathy in Philosophy, the book: click here to order

A Rumor of Empathy in Psychotherapy, the book: click here to order

Find A Rumor of Empathy on Facebook

(c)  Lou Agosta, Ph.D. and the Chicago Empathy Project

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Categories: domestic violence (DV), Empathy, empathy consulting, empathy trends, talk therapy

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