What Is Empathy? - Definition & Examples

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  • 0:00 Introduction To Empathy
  • 0:40 Empathy Defined
  • 1:25 Empathy and Psychology
  • 2:25 Empathy & Sympathy:…
  • 3:00 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Yolanda Williams

Yolanda has taught college Psychology and Ethics, and has a doctorate of philosophy in counselor education and supervision.

Are you able to put yourself in other people's shoes and see things from their point of view? If so, you have empathy. Learn more about empathy, how it differs from sympathy, and how it is used in the field of psychology.

Introduction to Empathy

Suppose that you were a student who just received your first failing grade on an assignment. Having never received a failing grade before, you are disappointed and surprised at your assessment. You wonder where you went wrong, and you start to feel depressed. You start blaming yourself and feel like you are a failure as a student.

Your friends decide to take you out in order to cheer you up. Karen tells you how sorry she is that you failed your assignment. Mike places his arm around your shoulder and says, 'I know how you're feeling. I failed a calculus assignment last semester. I know you must be disappointed and upset with yourself, but try to not be too harsh.' Mike's response is an example of empathy.

Empathy Defined

You are probably somewhat familiar with the saying 'put yourself in someone else's shoes.' This saying is an example of empathy. Empathy is the ability to understand what another person is feeling. Showing empathy involves seeing things from another person's perspective so that you can understand and relate to his or her feelings.

It is easier to empathize with someone when you have been in a similar situation. For example, Mike was easily able to empathize with you in the example because he previously received a failing grade in calculus. If you are an alcoholic and attend an AA meeting, it will be easier for the other members in the meeting to understand and empathize with your feelings about your alcoholism because they are experiencing or have experienced similar things.

Empathy and Psychology

Many psychologists rely on empathy when working with their clients. For example, psychologists who show empathy have a better understanding of what it is like to be the client and have these experiences. Psychologists also use empathy in order to understand the significance that certain events hold for the client. When used correctly in the therapeutic setting, empathy can result in a deeper connection between client and therapist and improve the working relationship.

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