By Emily van Berkhout and John M. Malouff
Journal of Counseling Psychology, Jul 20 , 2015
High levels of empathy are associated with healthy relationships and prosocial behavior; in health professionals, high levels of empathy are associated with better therapeutic outcomes. To determine whether empathy can be taught, researchers have evaluated empathy training programs. After excluding 1 outlier study that showed a very large effect with few participants, the meta-analysis included 18 randomized controlled trials of empathy training with a total of 1,018 participants. The findings suggest that empathy training programs are effective overall, with a medium effect (g = 0.63), adjusted to 0.51 after trim-and-fill evaluation for estimated publication bias. Moderator analyses indicated that 4 factors were statistically significantly associated with higher effect sizes: (a) training health professionals and university students rather than other types of individuals, (b) compensating trainees for their participation, (c) using empathy measures that focus exclusively on assessing understanding the emotions of others, feeling those emotions, or commenting accurately on the emotions, and (d) using objective measures rather than self-report measures. Number of hours of training and time between preintervention assessment and postintervention assessment were not statistically significantly associated with effect size, with 6 months the longest time period for assessment. The findings indicate that (a) empathy training tends to be effective and (b) experimental research is warranted on the impact of different types of trainees, training conditions, and types of assessment.
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