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Soc Work. 2007 Jul;52(3):251-9.

Re-examining empathy: a relational-feminist point of view.

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Department of Sociology and Social Work, Lehman College, City University of New York, Bronx 10468, USA.


This article reviews the literature on the concept of empathy in the social work profession from the days of Mary Richmond to its use in traditional literature today. Empathy is re-examined in light of recent developments in feminist scholarship, in particular the relational-cultural theory developed at the Stone Center at Wellesley College. Moving beyond the more traditional definitions of empathy, this article presents a framework that conceptualizes empathy in an increasingly mutual, interactive, and humanist way. Case examples illustrate the need for connection and empathic responsiveness in which both worker and client feel the impact each has made on the other. Unlike earlier conceptualizations of empathy, this relational approach highlights the active participation of the worker and client system in a dynamic helping process and illustrates how the worker brings his or her own thoughts and feelings into the helping relationship. Implications for practice are discussed.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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