Empathy. A discussion

Essay 2016 4 Pages

Psychology - General


Engagement Concept: Empathy


When a person perceives, understands, experiences and responds to other people’s emotional state and ideas, it is said that such a person is empathetic. Empathy is an essential condition in the establishment of relationships in the society. Being able to put one in the shoes of others and take steps to experience the challenges that they face can prove to be the most worthwhile effort undertaken in trying to understand what other people go through. While it is possible to understand the feelings of other people, a true empathic skill takes into perspective the capacity for an emotional attachment (Birkenmaier et al., 2014). Empathy has a sense of incorporation of a client’s inner perspectives but at the same time retaining personal emotions in a bid to enhance decision making. This illustrates that though a social worker strives to travel through a client’s world, he or she does not lose his or her own objectivity. Empathy has also been described as vicarious introspection to mean that a social worker penetrates the inner world of the clients and at the same time reflects on the feelings invoked. Empathy has also been established as an essential ingredient and dispositional trait in the facilitation of communication skills. The two basic components associated with empathy include affective matching and cognitive component that is concerned with the ability to adopt other people’s perspective.

Summary and Application

Affective and cognitive are the two primary domains that enhance understanding of empathy in social work practice. The two domains lead to behavioral expressions. Affective includes the constructs of care to the target and congruence. Professional care is a specific form of interpersonal communication whereby one party applies the principles of a specific set of knowledge and skills; for example counseling with a goal of improving human condition. Congruence was a dimension proposed by Rogers and connotes being open, honest and non judgmental in helping a person. The cognitive dimension takes into perspective such factors as flexibility in decision making and intellectuality, openness in understanding and taking the perspectives of other people. Cognition also inculcates the ability to take another point of view regardless of the initial perception. It is paramount for a social worker to try and interpret and understand another person’s mental and emotional state if a fruitful conclusion was to be attained in the long run. Altruism and therapeutic relationships are some of the core behavioral manifestations of empathy involving interpersonal motivations and actions. Altruism denotes motivation to benefit others in situations where the goal is to motivate others without any expectation to receive rewards (Matziari et al., 2016).

Therapeutic relationship connotes a medium that facilitates the exploration of different issues, cements hope and nurtures behaviors. Further, therapeutic relationship is a channel through which intervention strategies are coined. It is argued that the nature and quality of therapeutic relationships impacts the resultant outcomes and the experience of clients in a social setup. Similarly a productive and helping alliance aligns to situations where helpers accept, become non-judgmental, supportive and empathic. Empathy stands out as an essential factor in building trust and developing a relationship that will stand the test of time. Reliable and effective social work practice lies on the premise of interpersonal and empathic skills of the practitioners (Zibenberg & Kupermintz, 2016). Thus, empathy is central in regard to practice and personality of a therapist. Both actors in a relationship get to benefit in the event that they adopt empathy.

Self awareness is an essential component in an empathic experience as one becomes aware of other people’s feelings and state of emotion in relation to his or her own emotional state. There are two main perspectives associated with the aspect of self awareness and its connection to empathic experience. The first factor takes into consideration empathy as a result of identification that blurs the difference between self and others. It is important to note that empathy goes beyond just absorption of other people’s emotions and feelings as it requires congruence to different situations ("The power of empathy: Helen Riess at TEDxMiddlebury", 2016). The second factor is the consideration of empathy to specific results from a self point of view and allowing one to recognize particular uniqueness that accrue. A good social worker with an empathic predisposition will always strive to get to a client’s inner world while maintaining emotional distance (Gerdes & Segal, 2011). An emotional distance in an empathic relationship is significant in ensuring that there is preservation of one’s well being and prevention of fatigue.

A good example two illustrate an empathic relationship can be given by an hypothetical situation involving two people; person X and person Y. Person X is a social worker while person Y is a client. In their relationship, X is trying to aid Y in conquering her personal fears that emanate from her feeling disregarded by the family members. In this case X tries immensely to fit herself in the shoes of Y in order to ensure that she understands exactly what Y feels and devise the best strategy to aid her transformation. X must commence by listening keenly and following the utterances of Y. At some point X should paraphrase what the client is saying by quoting the main points. Care and compassion are essential in the relationship, X must exhibit care by ensuring that her facial expression and posture consummate with what Y is saying. At the same time, she must understand the feelings of the client and treat her as a whole person and by so doing trust and genuineness will be cemented between the two. A good real life example of an empathic relationship is exhibited when a mother takes her child for a vaccination. In some situations if not in all situations it is possible to see mothers wince the moment the child is injected. On occasions when the child is crying out of pain some mothers tend to cry as well, however, the mother has to allow the vaccination to take place because it is necessary and vital to the growth and development of the baby. The relationship between mothers can be depicted as an empathic relationship owing to the emotional attachment and emotional distance that accrues.


Social engagement is not worthwhile if there is no empathic relationship. At the same time, it is true to say that a society without empathy is not livable. What makes the world worth and livable is the extent of emotional attachment that people exhibit (Gerdes & Segal, 2011). Regardless of race, color, religion or age it is common to see a person tend to connect with another in the event of pain or joy. For example in a situation where a person wins an award, both the person and the audience can shed tears of joy although in a normal setup it is only the primary winner who is supposed to react, but this is not the case because the audience tends to establish an empathic relationship with the award winner. Thus, empathic relationships are critical in social engagement. When working with people the first step is always to try and get their perspective without jumping into conclusions (Grant, 2013). Early conclusions tend to impair the real feelings of the associated persons. The second step is to connect emotionally with the involved persons while maintaining personal judgment and emotional distance. It is always important to follow up on the conversations and allow moments of silence. Moreover, facial expressions and posture must coincide with the emotions of the associated people in order to spur development of trust and create room for genuineness and open mindedness.


Birkenmaier, J., Berg-Weger, M., & Dewees, M. (2014). The Practice of Generalist Social Work.

Gerdes, K. & Segal, E. (2011). Importance of Empathy for Social Work Practice: Integrating New Science. Social Work, 56(2), 141-148. http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/sw/56.2.141

Grant, L. (2013). Hearts and Minds: Aspects of Empathy and Wellbeing in Social Work Students. Social Work Education, 33(3), 338-352. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02615479.2013.805191

Matziari, A., Montgomery, A., Georganta, K., & Doulougeri, K. (2016). The Relationship between Organizational Practices and Values with Burnout and Engagement. Current Psychology. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s12144-016-9413-7

The power of empathy: Helen Riess at TEDxMiddlebury. (2016). YouTube. Retrieved 8 November 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=baHrcC8B4WM

Zibenberg, A. & Kupermintz, H. (2016). Personal Values and Intergroup Empathy. Journal of Human Values, 22(3), 180-193. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0971685816650584


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Title: Empathy. A discussion