Following our last post about what empathy isn’t, I thought I better complete the process and discuss what it is!

Get the audio version of this post on ‘Jonny 24/7’ – here…

So, empathy…

– is NOT just about noticing and acknowledging

– is NOT disconnected or distant

– is NOT about minimising (‘Mm, at least…’)

OK, so what exactly is it?

We’ve established that empathy has to do with connection. A connection between two people – one of whom is struggling and one who is empathising.

It has to do with being in the problem together; sharing it. As Dr Brene Brown says…

Attributes of empathy

The work of Dr Theresa Wiseman (a nursing scholar) is really helpful in unpicking what empathy is in more detail  – what it’s ingredients are. She identifies 4 attributes that have to be present for it to be empathy.

We have to:

1. See the world as others see it

2. Be non-judgmental

3. Understand another’s feelings, and

4. Communicate that understanding

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Each of these are concepts we understand. But when you take them together they morph into something much more powerful – that thing is empathy.

In future posts, I’ll try to unpick each of these 4 ideas a little further, to shed more light on how we can apply this in our work with troubled children and young people.


For now though, bring to mind one of the children or young people you work with and ask yourself the following:

Am I able to see the world as s/he sees it?

Am I keeping judgment out of it?

Do I understand what it is they are feeling?

Have I communicated all this to them?

Sobering stuff isn’t it! Reflective practice is key to improving our practice, so a little time spent thinking about how well we’re doing on each of these items, would be time well spent…

Final word

I believe that truly child-centred practice is about employing empathy – this is why it is so important to understand it AND practice it, properly.

‘Empathy is employed when one individual hears and understands another. It involves ‘crawling inside another’s skin’ and seeing the world through his/her eyes. It involves experiencing the world as if you were that person.’ – Theresa Wiseman, citing Carkhuff, 1969

Previous related posts

– How to teach empathy to troubled teens – part 1…

How to teach empathy to troubled teens – part 2…

– Empathy 1 – What It Isn’t…

– Empathy 3 – A child’s-eye view…  (get the audio version of this post on ‘Jonny 24/7’ – here)

– Empathy 4 – Being non-judgmental…  (get the audio version of this post on ‘Jonny 24/7’ – here)

– Empathy 5 – Understanding another’s feelings…  (get the audio version of this post on ‘Jonny 24/7’ – here)

– Empathy 6 – Communicate Our Understanding… (get the audio version on ‘Jonny 24/7’ – here)

– Child first, offender second…

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Carkhuff, R. (1969) Helping and Human Relationships. Holt. Reinhart & Whinston, New York.

Wiseman, T. (1996) A Concept Analysis of Empathy. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 1996,23,1162-1167 – download.

Wiseman, T. (2007) Towards A Holistic Conceptualisation of Empathy for Nursing. Advances in Nursing Science Vol. 30, No. 3, pp. E61–E72 – download.

See Dr Theresa Wiseman’s university page here, including a publications tab.

Get the audio version of this post on ‘Jonny 24/7’ – here…

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©?Jonny Matthew 2018

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