Training clinical empathy: a behavior analytic approach

Empathy is identified as a necessary trait among helping professionals. Research indicates that empathy is important to treatment outcomes and client satisfaction. However, little consensus on defining and training empathy in helping professionals exists. The present study sought to define and train empathetic behaviors from a behavior analytic perspective. The present study asked two questions: (a) Can behaviors indicative of empathy be trained using video modeling and feedback, and (b) do client and third person ratings of an individual's level of empathy increase after such training? Results indicated that behaviors defined as empathetic increased for 3 out of 4 participants. Client clinical empathy ratings increased for all participants and client general empathy ratings increased for 3 out of 4 participants. Third person ratings were mostly consistent, demonstrating only minimal increases and decreases. Results were discussed using Skinner's analysis of verbal behavior, multiple causation, stimulus control, conditioned reinforcement, and rule governed and contingency shaped behavior concepts. Limitations of the current study and future research directions were noted.