Empathy in psychiatric patients

Br J Med Psychol. 1988 Jun;61 ( Pt 2):155-62. doi: 10.1111/j.2044-8341.1988.tb02774.x.


The definition of empathy is controversial. Here one aspect of it, namely perception of others' feelings and personality, was investigated. Empathy was assessed by comparing self-rating with rating by other persons. Group psychotherapy patients were used. Nineteen patients with a history of schizophrenic psychosis and 20 neurotics were found to have lower empathy than 20 patients with borderline personality disorders whose empathy was as high as the descriptively used scores of four psychotherapists. Empathy was not found to be dependent on similarity of personalities. It correlated negatively with obsessional features, such as emotional constriction or rigidity. The borderline patients' high empathy appeared of particular interest in view of clinical observations that psychotics had high empathy before the development of psychosis. The possible relevance of empathy in the development of psychosis is discussed.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Borderline Personality Disorder / psychology
  • Empathy*
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders / psychology*
  • Neurotic Disorders / psychology
  • Personality Tests
  • Psychotherapy, Group*
  • Schizophrenic Psychology