Journal of Professional Nursing

Empathy: Towards a Clearer Meaning for Nursing


Sue Thompson, R.P.N. (N.Z.). Masterate candidate (Nursing), Victoria University.  Applicant Member New Zealand Association of Psychotherapists.  Senior Lecturer and Counsellor, Nursing and Midwifery Department, Otago Polytechnic.

Reference:  Thompson, S. (1996). Empathy: Towards a Clearer Meaning for Nursing. Nursing Praxis in New Zealand, 11(1), 19-26.


This paper provides a selective review of the literature on empathy.  Its purpose is to make sense of empathy as a therapeutic phenomenon important to nursing practice.  The literature reveals that empathy is a freely used concept in nursing and was “borrowed” from psychology and psychotherapy.  The value of empathy in nursing has been questioned by some authors.  Empathy, sympathy and rapport are viewed as different phenomena by some authors and as the same phenomenon by others.  Definitions of empathy are presented and empathy in nursing is discussed considering application, self awareness, research and morality.  Developments in psychotherapy are also considered in relation to the value of empathy in nursing practice.  Finally empathy will be identified as a key phenomenon in the author’s practice and an essential requirement for therapeutic relationships.

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