Center for Building a Culture of Empathy

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Culture of Empathy Builder:  Kristen Zaleski

Nurturing and Teaching Empathy in Social Work
Kristen Zaleski and Edwin Rutsch

 

Kristen Zaleski is professor of Social Work at the University of Southern California (USC) and also supervises new psychotherapists in the field.  She is a licensed clinical social worker providing individual and group psychotherapy for trauma, sexual assault and bereavement in Los Angeles. Her work experience includes in-patient psychiatry, in-patient medical, in-patient and out-patient oncology, and out-patient counseling for rape trauma victims.

 

"Being empathetic is a crucial skill set for social workers because...
 we aren't working with people who have had good lives."

 

"Empathy is a building block of self-identity."
 


The Parable of the Good Samaritan by Jan Wijnants (wikipedia)

"Say the word "empathy" around social workers and most will recognize it as a professional "must-have," even if they can't tell you exactly what it means. Scholars also disagree about the definition of empathy and what it looks like in social work practice. According to some, empathy occurs when a person takes on the feelings of another-the sadness of losing a loved one or the joy of landing a job-as if sharing that experience. Indeed, the Social Work Dictionary defines empathy as "the act of perceiving, understanding, experiencing, and responding to the emotional state and ideas of another person" ... According to Zaleski, she and her colleagues recruited 306 graduate social work students to complete the Questionnaire of Cognitive and Affective Empathy. Can Social Work Students Learn Empathy?

 
 
 
 
 
 

Articles

 

USC study feels out empathy in students,  ByShirley Shin, JUNE 17, 2015
"Can humans be engineered to share the feelings of others? That’s the focus of research by social work professors"

“Empathy requires a cognitive understanding and a felt experience at the same time,” Zaleski explained. “You’re sitting with someone and understanding and feeling the pain or whatever emotion that they happen to be going through. In social work, that’s so much of the beginning part of the work. You need to engage a patient and put into words how you’re feeling it so the client feels that you really understand.”

 

 

Can Social Work Students Learn Empathy?  By Joelle Ruben,  Apr 9, 2015
March/April 2015 Issue: Social Work Today: Vol. 15 No. 2 P. 12:
"Instructors and students stress the importance of empathy in the classroom, even as researchers debate how—and whether—this trait can be learned."
 

"Say the word "empathy" around social workers and most will recognize it as a professional "must-have," even if they can't tell you exactly what it means. Scholars also disagree about the definition of empathy and what it looks like in social work practice. According to some, empathy occurs when a person takes on the feelings of another—the sadness of losing a loved one or the joy of landing a job—as if sharing that experience. Indeed, the Social Work Dictionary defines empathy as "the act of perceiving, understanding, experiencing, and responding to the emotional state and ideas of another person" ...

"According to Zaleski, she and her colleagues recruited 306 graduate social work students to complete the Questionnaire of Cognitive and Affective Empathy. This instrument uses a series of questions and Likert-scale rankings to measure how strongly respondents feel they understand the experiences of others and/or share in their emotional response. Researchers also conducted qualitative interviews with 32 students randomly selected from the group."