Empathy: a crucial component of the helping relationship

J Psychiatr Ment Health Nurs. 1999 Oct;6(5):363-70. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2850.1999.00228.x.


The literature reviewed in this paper substantiates the widely held view that empathy is crucial to all forms of helping relationships. While most studies cited are more than a decade old, the relationship between empathy and helping remains unchallenged in the 1990s. Additionally, while there is confusion about whether empathy is a personality dimension, an experienced emotion, or an observable skill, it is shown that empathy involves an ability to communicate an understanding of a client's world. Finally, a definition of empathy considered to be relevant to clinical nursing is introduced, which includes the need to understand client's distress, and to provide supportive interpersonal communication. It is argued that there is a need to revisit the role of empathy in the context of current health care delivery.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Communication
  • Emotions
  • Empathy*
  • Helping Behavior*
  • Humans
  • Models, Nursing
  • Nurse-Patient Relations*
  • Nursing Staff / psychology*
  • Personality
  • Psychiatric Nursing / methods*
  • Social Support