Exploring empathy: a conceptual fit for nursing practice?

Image J Nurs Sch. Winter 1992;24(4):273-80. doi: 10.1111/j.1547-5069.1992.tb00733.x.


After three decades, the efficacy of empathy in the clinical setting remains undocumented. Recently, concerns have been raised that the concept may be inappropriate and even harmful to the nurse-patient relationship. An analysis of the concept indicates that empathy consists of moral, emotive, cognitive and behavioral components. By tracing the integration of this concept into nursing, we suggest that empathy was uncritically adopted from psychology and is actually a poor fit for the clinical reality of nursing practice. Other communication strategies presently devalued, such as sympathy, pity, consolation, compassion and commiseration, need to be reexamined and may be more appropriate than empathy during certain phases of the illness experience. Directions for future research are suggested.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Behavior
  • Cognition
  • Emotions
  • Empathy*
  • Humans
  • Morals
  • Nurse-Patient Relations*