The Art and Science of Compassion, A Primer

Reflections of a Physician-Chaplain

Book summary

The Art and Science of Compassion, A Primer offers a succinct, all-in-one introduction to the full gamut of compassion, from the evolutional, biological, behavioral, and psychological, to the social, philosophical, and spiritual. Drawing on her diverse background as a physician, scientist, professor, and chaplain, Dr. Agnes Wong presents a wealth of scientific evidence supporting that compassion is both innate and trainable. By interleaving personal experiences and reflections, Dr. Wong shares her insights on what it takes to cultivate compassion to support the art of medicine and caregiving. The training described in this book draws on both contemplative and scientific disciplines to help clinicians develop cognitive, attentional, affective, and somatic skills that are critical for the cultivation of compassion. With striking illustrations for key concepts and concise summaries for each chapter, this book provides a solid conceptual framework and practical approaches to cultivate compassion.

Table of Content

Foreword by Roshi Joan Halifax
Foreword by Gregory L. Fricchione

  1. What are Empathy and Compassion? A Western Perspective
  2. Is Compassion Innate? A Physiological Perspective
  3. Is Compassion Innate? A Psychological Perspective
  4. Is Compassion Innate? Spiritual and Eastern Perspectives
  5. East Meets West: Is Compassion Trainable? A Neuroscientific Perspective
  6. What are the Obstacles to Compassion?
  7. What Does it Take to Cultivate Compassion?
  8. A Wholistic Approach to Compassionate and Flourishing Life

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—Ron Epstein, MD, author of Attending: Medicine, Mindfulness, and Humanity

“Well-written, deeply personal and scientifically grounded, this book provides strong physiological, psychological, and ethical reasons why cultivating compassion is essential—and provides a thoughtful roadmap for promoting compassion in healthcare and in all of life.”

—Joan Halifax, PhD, Abbot, Upaya Zen Center; author of Standing at the Edge

“I was fortunate that Dr. Agnes Wong, my student and a brilliant clinician, brought her keen mind to explore how compassion could serve clinicians. This book is the result of her direct experience as a clinician, her observations of the challenges clinicians face in giving care to others, and her finely tuned synthesis of compassion research…Dr. Wong’s precise work gives a clear picture of how the instantiation of compassion in medical training will serve both clinicians and patients. Her book is an important, timely, and challenging work that will open many doors for those who read it.”

—Stephen G. Post, PhD, Director, Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care and Bioethics; Professor of Family, Population, and Preventive Medicine, Stony Brook University

“Dr. Agnes Wong, a highly distinguished physician and exceptional researcher at the University of Toronto, has written an absolutely uplifting masterpiece about meaning, compassionate care, and the universal journey that all healers must take to sustain their inner being and nobility of purpose. This book is partly her journey to a deeper state of being that places compassionate care in its rightful place in the healing art; it is also a fabulous scientific presentation of the practice and impact of compassionate care on patients and on one’s own flourishing as a physician. This is a book that touches the soul and should be read by every medical student or clinician worldwide as they reflect on what it means to really succeed in their “whole selves” as healers and human beings.”

—Larry Dossey, MD, author of One Mind: How Our Individual Mind Is Part of a Greater Consciousness and Why It Matters

“Compassion and empathy are traits that make us human, and as Dr. Wong shows, these qualities can be developed, encouraged, and cultivated. In our struggling world, we need this awareness as never before. The future of our species likely depends on it. This book is an example of how science and spirituality can come together in a brilliant synthesis.”

—Gregory L. Fricchione, MD, Associate Chief of Psychiatry, Massachusetts General Hospital; Mind Body Medical Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School

“In this very fine book, Dr. Agnes M.F. Wong—a well-known neuro-ophthalmologist and neuroscientist—melds her personal story with an important message for patients, family members, caregivers, and society at large that emanates from her unique perspective as a physician, scientist, and Buddhist chaplain. After suffering a severe bout with hearing loss and the distress of severe tinnitus, she stopped to take stock of her life in the midst of deep melancholy. She found a new appraisal of what matters and discovered that this meaningful place where the better angels of our nature reside in a spirit of awareness of the present moment infused with compassion and lovingkindness can present all of us with a springboard to healing and, indeed to flourishing.”

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