Feeling their stories: contemplating empathy, insider/outsider positionings, and enriching qualitative research

Qual Health Res. 2012 Jan;22(1):134-43. doi: 10.1177/1049732311420580. Epub 2011 Aug 26.


Empathy is a very familiar term in the helping and caring literature. What appears to link empathy in the helping literature to the aims and goals of qualitative research and, in particular, to the argument underpinning insider/outsider debates, is a discernible common quest. That quest is to be able to hear, feel, understand, and value the stories of others and to convey that felt empathy and understanding back to the client/storyteller/participant. When relevant, the quest also includes conveying that felt understanding to a broader audience. In this article, I highlight commonalities between empathy in professional practice and empathy in qualitative research processes, including the shared experiences and understanding informing research relationships that are discussed as "insider/outsider" status. I review, discuss, and critique relevant literature, and I conclude by suggesting that cultivating empathy in qualitative research training could contribute to facilitating more enriched, insightful research encounters.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Communication
  • Empathy*
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Qualitative Research*