December 1, 2011
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v2.1 Reference

Compassion and Healing in Medicine and Society

On the Nature and Use of Attachment Solutions to Separation Challenges

Reconciling the scientific principles of medicine with the love essential for meaningful care is not an easy task, but it is one that Gregory L. Fricchione performs masterfully in Compassion and Healing in Medicine and Society.

At the core of this book is a thought-provoking analysis of the relationship between evolutionary science and neuroscience. Fricchione theorizes that the cries for attachment made by seriously ill patients reflect an underlying evolutionary tenet called the separation challenge–attachment solution process. The pleadings of patients, he explains, are verbal expressions of the history of evolution itself. By exploring the roots of a patient’s attachment needs, we come face to face with a critical component of natural selection and the evolutionary process. Medicine engages with the separation challenge–attachment solution process on many levels of scientific knowledge and human meaning and healing.

Fricchione applies these concepts to medical care and encourages physicians to fully understand them so they can better treat their patients. Compassionate humanistic care promotes physical, emotional, and spiritual healing precisely because it is consonant with how life, the brain, and humanity have evolved. It is therefore not a luxury of modern medical care but an essential part of it.

Fricchione advocates an attachment-based medical system, one in which physicians evaluate stress and resiliency and prescribe an integrative treatment plan for the whole person designed to accentuate the propensity to health. There is a wisdom or perennial philosophy based on compassionate love that, Fricchione stresses, the medical community must take advantage of in designing future health care—and society must appreciate as it faces its separation challenges.

About the Author

Gregory L. Fricchione, M.D., is a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and associate chief of psychiatry and director of the Benson-Henry Institute at Massachusetts General Hospital. He is coauthor of The Massachusetts General Hospital Handbook of General Hospital Psychiatry and The Heart-Mind Connection.


"It is not possible to give justice to such a large and complex project in a short review... enlightening and fascinating."

- Riadh Abed - British Journal of Psychiatry


"Greg Fricchione’s book presents scientific proof of what we intuitively know to be true: personal connections make us feel better. I hope all health care professionals will embrace the more compassionate, ‘attachment-based’ medical system that Greg advocates. The health of patients and their caregivers will benefit from genuine expressions of selfless love."

- Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, Carter Center Mental Health Program

"Greg Fricchione leads the reader back to the art of medicine, indeed to its increasingly imperiled core: empathy and effective engagement with patients."

- Steven E. Hyman, M.D., Former Director, National Institute of Mental Health, and Distinguished Service Professor, Harvard University

"The finest statement yet on the evolution of compassionate care and why it is so essential to the well-being of patients. Dr. Fricchione brings a lifetime of careful scientific study, clinical practice, and wisdom to a topic that is often the forgotten factor in healthcare reform and education. This book will help us understand ourselves, our needs as human beings and as patients, and what a truly healing relationship with a clinician is all about. May this become a true classic."

- Stephen G. Post, Ph.D., Stony Brook University

"Gregory Fricchione leads us on his quest to untie the Gordian knot inherent in such questions as, 'Who are we? How did we come to be like this?' His epic inquiry is conducted by the light of a dyadic lens, the 'separation challenge–attachment solution' that is foundational to our deepest pains, greatest longings, and, if his hypothesis holds, even our final joy. A masterwork of synthesis, it offers an epiphany in our search for meaning."

- Balfour M. Mount, OC, OQ, M.D., FRCSC, Eric M. Flanders Emeritus Professor of Palliative Medicine, McGill University

"A compassionate and scholarly tour de force. With great erudition Dr. Fricchione provides an explanation of the complex neurobiology of human attachment as well as case histories so vivid they make the reader cry. Here is wise advice on how modern doctors can still bring their hearts to the bedside."

- George Vaillant, M.D., Harvard Medical School
Johns Hopkins University Press
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9781421402208 : compassion-and-healing-in-medicine-and-society-fricchione
552 Pages
$68.00 USD

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