The discussion of this assignment is around empathy. In this assignment it will outline were the word empathy derived from and how far the word dates back too. It will also outline and define of empathy through the definitions of two psychologists called Carl Rogers and Nancy Eisenberg. While also differentiating the difference between empathy and sympathy as these two concepts seemed to get confused at times. In the main part of the assignment it will look in to the concept of empathy and focus around the cognitive and effective perspective of empathy. While also looking into the debate around cognitive empathy and perspective taking. In the last section the author explains how empathy relates to the field of social care work and how a social care worker uses this communication skill in this line of work.
Definition of empathy
The meaning of the word empathy dates back hundreds of years and derives from the Greek word empathia where it is described as “physical affection or feeling inside together”. Since then the word empathy first appeared in the English dictionary in 1909. When it was translated by a German psychologist called Edward Bradford Titchener. This old concept had been gaining new meaning and increased relevance from the 1900s (Bavelas et al 1987).
In more recent years there has been considerable debate amongst different professions such as sociologists, psychologists, and philosophers as each profession have tried to describe and put their own definition on what empathy is. According to (Rogers 2007) he defines empathy “as the ability to sense the client’s private world as if it were their own”. In simpler terms just to be able to step into the other person shoes and look at it from their perspective being able to connect and relate to that person. Sharing at some level of emotional state and expressing (verbally and non-verbally) all this understanding seems to be a set of abilities inside the process of emphasizing.
According to (Eisenberg 200) states that “effective or emotional empathy can be measured with the construct’s empathy concern or sympathy. But a more precise measure would specifically tap into one’s vicarious emotional response” (Eisenberg 2000).
Distinguishing empathy from other concepts
Over the period of the last 50 years, there have been several attempts made by psychologists and sociologists to differentiate empathy from a variety of related concepts (Baston 2001). One of the most regularly discussed debates amongst different professions with regard to this theme is trying to distinguish the difference between sympathy and empathy. There are numerous definitions which seem to integrate and merge the concepts of empathy and sympathy, or at least they do not make the distinction clear. While many would argue against merging empathy and sympathy (Eisenberg et al 1991). According to (Eisenberg et al 1991, pg. 65) defines sympathy as “vicarious emotional reaction based on the apprehension of another emotional state or situation which involves a feeling of sorrow or concern for the other”. The dissimilarity between empathy and sympathy has been described as “feeling as and feeling for “ the other (Hein & Singer 2008) a good example to try explain and differentiate the two concepts are as followed, when a person sees another person sad empathy will cause sadness in the person (same emotion; feeling as) while sympathy involves feelings of worry (different emotion; feeling for) ( Singer and Lamm 2009). The author tries his best to differentiate the two concepts and views that empathy and sympathy should be separated.
Concepts of empathy
Cognitive or effective
Over the period of the last fifty years, the concept of empathy was mainly addressed and looked at from two perspectives which are a cognitive and affective approach (Baron-Cohen & Wheelwright 2004). The cognitive approach defines empathy as having the awareness and understanding of another person’s feelings which would be closely related to the theory of mind (Blair 2005). While the affective empathy was defined as understanding empathy as an emotional response to somebody else’s feelings, produced by an emotional stimulus. Which have different trajectories and different behavioral outcomes (Blair 2005).
Research that was carried out on personality and developmental disorders propose that cognitive and effective empathy are two separate paradigms. It was found that people who have an autistic disorder tend to have a low level of cognitive empathy deficits but have normal levels of affective empathy (Baron-Cohen & Wheelwright 2004). According to (Heberlein and Saxe 2005 pg. 260) state that “the effective and cognitive components can be separated, he emphasizes that it is important to remember the interaction between two processes”. Most psychologists and other researchers would agree that the effective and cognitive approach complement each other and are interrelated (Baron-Cohen& wheelwright 2004) Another thing to note and consider is whether empathy is limited to an emotional context or whether cognitive empathy can be looked at as “empathy” alone.
There has also been considerable debate regarding around cognitive empathy and perspective taking. I.e. taking the perspective of others and through your own views forming your own opinion around the matter. Many researchers agree they are the same construct, but there are also many who would disagree with this. Perspective taking is an important component of the theory of mind processes (Gerry et al 2009). But looking at it from a holistic approach there are also many other ways to understand how another person is feeling without taking their perspective.eg facial expressions, being able to relate to a person who is going through the same situation that you have already gone through and being able to memorize what it was like and how you felt at that time these are just some of the suggestions that have come to the author’s mind ( Eisenberg 2009 ).
Applying it to social care profession and work
In recent times social care workers have began to apply this concept of cognitive empathy to social care work and practice. When working in this field as a social care worker and especially working with clients. it is important that you work hard and practice on your observational skill and awareness around this because this lack of awareness can unintentionally turn this reflective aspect of empathy into an intolerable emotional liability. Which would mean you’re gone from emphazing with the client to pitying which can have a damaging effect on the social care worker and the client relationships. (Gerdes et al 2011)
Empathy is an important communication skill that a social care worker must possess and is used daily basis by professionals in this line of work but more importantly is also a standard in providing ethical care for clients that you work with. This concept of empathy is instrumental component for therapeutic relationships. As a social care worker job solely relies around engaging with clients and assessing areas where they think that they may need support while at the same time helping them to build the confidence. The overall achievement here is to empower the clients to make their own choices and to help them live independently (CORU 2018)
As social care work is so broad you will be working with so many people with many different backgrounds such as people with disabilities, vulnerable young kids, addictions. For care services to be successful they must first lay the foundation that will help service users achieve this success. Many people that you work with will have different backgrounds and up bringing’s in many cases social care worker will work with people who have suffered traumas and had bad experiences in their life.
it is vital that when a social care worker is with their client that you listen actively to what is being said, while also having the cognitive awareness to pick up any emotions from the other person that you are speaking with. To be able to emphasise with someone is an important communication skill. Being able to connect on an emotional level and putting yourself in to their shoes and see it from their perspective only then will you truly know what that person is experiencing. When a person realises that you care for them trust is built and a connection is made, and they realise that you’re not just another authoritive figure that’s in their life.
Only when this is achieved, you will understand the needs of the person and from their you can engage and help build interventions that works for them. Through this communication skill you can start to engage with the person working on areas that they need help in while also trying to help them build their confidence back up. You get to know what their strengths are, and you praise them on that. Through this interpersonal skill you will be able to better predict actions and reactions of people that you work with. (Fairbairn 2002)