Is Therapeutic Empathy Teachable?: Evaluating the Impact of an Empathy Training Seminaron Empathic Performance for Clinical Ph.D Graduate Students

Nelson, Avery A.
Most cognitive behavioral therapies emphasize the importance of empathy as a basic therapeutic relationship variable (O'Donohue & Fisher, 2009). However, training in empathic responding for clinical doctoral programs is often neglected. In the current study, we evaluated the impact of a graduate empathy training seminar on the ability of clinical graduate students to be empathic with undergraduates across two 20-minute sessions. We expected that clinical students who received the empathy training would provide higher levels of empathy to their clients as rated using an objective empathic responding scale. Fifteen clinical psychology PhD graduate students who had either participated in an empathy training seminar (n=8) or who had not participated in the empathy training seminar (n=7), met with an undergraduate student for a 20-minute session at the beginning and at the end of a semester. The graduate students were instructed to do nothing but provide empathic responding to the undergraduate student. Further, two independent raters used an objective empathic responding rating scale (Burton & Scott, 2009) with written transcriptions of audiotaped sessions to rate the empathic attempts of the graduate student listeners. These findings will indicate the value of adding a specialized empathy seminar for clinical psychology doctoral training programs.
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