What is empathy, and can empathy be taught?

C. M. Davis

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

49 Scopus citations

Abstract

Empathy is a commonly used, but poorly understood, concept. It is often confused with related concepts such as sympathy, pity, identification, and self-transposal. The purposes of this article are to clearly distinguish empathy from related terms and to suggest that the act of empathizing cannot be taught. According to Edith Stein, a German phenomenologist, empathy can be facilitated. It also can be interrupted and blocked, but it cannot be forced to occur. What makes empathy unique, according to Stein, is that it happens to us; it is indirectly given to us, 'nonprimordially.' When empathy occurs, we find ourselves experiencing it, rather than directly causing it to happen. This is the characteristic that makes the act of empathy unteachable. Instead, promoting attitudes and behaviors such as self-awareness, nonjudgmental positive regard for others, good listening skills, and self-confidence are suggested as important in the development of clinicians who will demonstrate an empathic willingness.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)707-715
Number of pages9
JournalPhysical therapy
Volume70
Issue number11
StatePublished - Jan 1 1990

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Keywords

  • Attitude of health personnel
  • Education: physical therapist, teaching methods
  • Empathy
  • Professional-patient relations
  • Therapeutic presence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Health Professions(all)
  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation

Cite this

Davis, C. M. (1990). What is empathy, and can empathy be taught? Physical therapy, 70(11), 707-715.