Where and How Do We Find Empathy?

My daughter suggested that I explore empathy.

This was a great suggestion given its importance to caring and everyday life.

The previously posted animated lesson on empathy by Brene Brown got me started.

In that lesson, Brown referenced Theresa Wiseman, a nurse scholar who has studied empathy.


I ‘ve been poring over Wiseman’s 2007 article on empathy and others since.

Broad stroke picture of how we care:

  • Compassion is the practice and empathy is the emotional component and skill.
  • Empathy is supported by our mind’s emotional and cognitive systems. This is important in how we teach and learn empathy.


The word empathy has German origins and means “feeling within”. (JNSD)

Empathy – most common definition:

“ … the abilty to perceive the meanings and feelings of another person, and to

communicate that feeling to the other.” (Wiseman/Gagan)

Martha Rogers (nurse theorist known for Science of Unitary Hyman Beings), Carl Rogers (father of the humanistic psychology movement) and …. Mr. Rogers all contributed to empathy knowledge and demonstrating its essence. (JNSD)

According to Carl Rogers (1961), the 3 elements of the helping/therapeutic relationship:

  • Being genuine
  • Being accepting
  • Displaying acceptance / Empathy

All 3 of these elements are required to achieve self-actualization / self – awareness. (JNSD)


The critical distinction is that EMPATHY requires pulling from within self to be able to relate to the other. And there is evidence in the literature and in all of our own observations that this is the skill that too often declines over time when on the frontline of nursing and medicine.

Wiseman explores how empathy originates and sustains. She places its development on a continuum, however, not meant to be linear.

Empathy as an incident —–  Empathy as a way of knowing  —–  Empathy as a process —– Empathy as a way of being

What makes Wiseman’s work interesting to me is that she distinguishes empathy from the counseling model (which is where it is rooted) to the macrostructures of nursing practice.

The broad messages that I take away from this deep, complex and revealing work are, …

Individual nurse’s ability to be empathetic are dependent on knowledge, socialization and context.

The best environment for empathy to be expressed and experienced is where there is a culture of

  • individual nurse growth in self-awarenessimages-5
  • empathy within the team of nurses
  • and where the workloads do not pose consistent barriers

This is a lot to ask for in our current healthcare work environments.

…. may we all continue our journey of empathy for others.

Wiseman T. Toward a holistic conceptualization of empathy for nursing practice. Advances in Nursing Science, 2007; 30(3): E61-E72.
Modic MB, Schoessler M. Empathy. JNSD, 2011; July-August: 201-202.

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