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(Gerdes + 2009)

A Social Work Model of Empathy
A Social Work Model for Empathy PDF

"Abstract: This article presents a social work model of empathy that reflects the latest interdisciplinary research findings on empathy. The model reflects the social work commitment to social justice. The three model components are: 

  • 1) the affective response to another’s emotions and actions; 
  • 2) the cognitive processing of one’s affective response and the other person’s perspective; and 
  • 3) the conscious decision-making to take empathic action. Mirrored affective responses are involuntary, while cognitive processing and conscious decision-making are voluntary. 

The affective component requires healthy, neural pathways to function appropriately and accurately. The cognitive aspects of perspective-taking, self-awareness, and emotion regulation can be practiced and cultivated, particularly through the use of mindfulness techniques. Empathic action requires that we move beyond affective responses and cognitive processing toward utilizing social work values and knowledge to inform our actions. By introducing the proposed model of empathy, we hope it will serve as a catalyst for discussion and future research and development of the model."


Benefits of Empathy
The list of studies in social work mentioning the importance of empathy is  significant.

  • studies on the importance of practitioner-to-client empathy would fill  several volumes. Examples include

    • Berg, Raminani, Greer, Harwood & Safren (2008)

    • Forrester, Kershaw, Moss & Hughes (2007);

    • Green & Christensen (2006);

    • Mishara et al. (2007); and

    • Sale, Bellamy, Springer & Wang (2008)].

  • While empathy is essential to an effective client-worker relationship, it is also crucial that we help populations such as at risk parents, partners and sex offenders to develop and cultivate empathy

    • (Curtner-Smith et al., 2006,

    •  Busby & Gardner, 2008;

    • Hunter, Figueredo, Becker & Malamuth, 2007;

    •  Waldinger, Schultz, Hauser, Allen & Crowell 2004).

  • Parental empathy has been cited as crucial for raising healthy children (Curtner-Smith et al., 2006)

  • Partner empathy is a key element in satisfying relationships (Busby & Gardner, 2008; Waldinger et al., 2004).

  • Empathy is one of the core elements of healthy relationships at every level,


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