Do nurses and other professional helpers normally display much empathy?

J Adv Nurs. 2000 Jan;31(1):226-34. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2648.2000.01242.x.


Empathy, the ability to perceive and reason, as well as the ability to communicate understanding of the other person's feelings and their attached meanings, is held to be a core characteristic of a helping relationship. This paper examines some of the observations that motivated the authors' interest in how registered nurses learn how to offer empathy to clients. First, while empathy is crucial to all helping relationships, professional helpers do not normally offer much empathy. Second, while nurses are meant to provide helping relationships, they do not tend to show much empathy to clients. The relevance of empathy to clinical nursing and the potential consequences of low-empathy nursing for clients is considered. It will be shown that, in the past, a low level of empathy has been reported among the helping professions, including nursing, indicating that many professional helpers are not as helpful as they ought to be. While most studies of empathy in professional relationships are more than a decade old, more recent studies report similar results.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Empathy*
  • Health Personnel / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Nurse-Patient Relations
  • Nurses / psychology*
  • Nursing Care / psychology