Importance of Empathy in Human Services

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Skills are required for any professional to be effective in their field of expertise. Human services are no exception. In fact, the skills required are so varied that the length of this paper could not contain all that are necessary. For purposes here, we will examine the importance of empathy; not only as required for human services but, more specifically, in the area of hospice care.

What is Empathy?

The definition of empathy is “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner”. In the social work arena, it means being able to experience a client’s feelings, thoughts and experiences through their eyes.

Why is Empathy Important in Human Services?

Human services are all about the client. In order to understand or assess the needs of the individual (or family), one must develop a healthy relationship with them. It has been called “the foundation for helping services”. Trust does not happen all at once. The better the worker/client relationship, the more cooperation in gaining accurate information.

Empathy becomes an important skill in building confidence in that relationship. According to Carl Rogers, the originator of person-centered therapy, empathy is an essential quality for the counselor/worker to possess. Putting oneself into the “shoes” of the client can be a difficult task. It can involve working with individuals who may not appear to deserve empathy, for example; serial rapists, pedophiles, or domestic batterers. The social worker must realize that doing so does not mean they are condoning the behavior. It means being willing to “understand what it feels like to be them” so treatment or intervention happens.

How Can Empathy Be Shown to Clients?

When someone shares information with you, how do they know you heard them? Have understood them? When showing empathy to clients, they must perceive you understand them. Repeating back the information is one way.

But simply giving back the exact words may not be enough to let someone know you understand where they are coming from. “One of the best ways to demonstrate understanding is to reflect what the client has communicated”. Putting what you recall into your own words shows you are really listening and caring in an empathic way. Even saying you are not quite sure you understood correctly can open the relationship to a deeper level of communication and trust. It shows humility and willingness on your part to be corrected. Empathy communicated correctly can “preserves a client’s sense of dignity and worth to offset one’s experience of hardship, marginalization, and powerlessness”.

Why is Empathy Essential in Hospice Care?

The foundation of hospice care is its philosophy to offer support to those who are terminally ill and to their family. Dying is viewed as a natural part of life, and as such, everyone deserves the right to die with dignity. General skills of social workers include “the ability to communicate compassion, empathy, respect, and being fully present, all of which may be applied in combination to validate the dignity and worth of a patient”.

Because of impending end-of-life, relationships must be developed quickly. Empathy for the situation, their desires and last wishes, are pivotal. The worker must be careful to maintain a proper level of empathy even with dire circumstances. As with on-going “exposure to client’s suffering,” the professional can find it difficult to retain that ability, but empathy is absolutely necessary.
In all aspects of human services, empathy plays a vital role.

Understanding the client placed in your care is one of the first steps in building a relationship. Empathy applied correctly has been found to lead to more positive results. For the (sometimes) overwhelmed human services field to continue to serve the needs of its clients, empathy must not be an option. Training and advocating empathy skills must be followed by “living it.”

Cite this paper

Importance of Empathy in Human Services. (2020, Sep 22). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/importance-of-empathy-in-human-services/

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