empathy vs sympathy - page 2

is there a fine line between empathy and sympathy and how does it apply to your nursing practice? how would you define each? i appreciate your replies in advance. the reason i am asking is i am... Read More

  1. by   Antikigirl
    I find empathy is being able to feel what someone is talking about...either by being in a similar situation yourself or family member...or having some insight into it. Remember..empath is being able to 'feel' what a person is feeling by experience.

    Sympathy is feeling for someone not necessarily having experience in the condition causing the feeling. Say, I tell you "my purple monkey is sick". Okay you can feel sad for that...but how many of us own purple monkeys and know anything about it? So feeling sad for me is sympathy..if you owned a purple monkey and know what it is like then it is empathy!

    A more medical situation would be like me having a chemotherapy pt that is vomiting. Now I have never had chemo and so I don't know what it is like to be vomiting like that...so I am sympathetic to their needs and feelings. However, give me a pt that is pregnant and vomiting...been there done that and can empathize (as well as being sympathetic because I am not her and don't have her personal experiences about what it is like..just my own).

    Both are very good as tools for assessment and taking care of a pt! However..extremes in either are not. If I am too empathetic...I will treat according to how I know it..not by individual needs (which is more sympathetic). If I go totally sympathetic you tend to go strictly by the book because you don't have that experience to reference. It must be a balance in order to sucessfully use them without harm to patient or yourself!

    (the most common thing is empathy when talking to patients...the whole "when I went through this" or "when my hubby went through this" deal. Then you need a bit more sympathy and remember...you may know the situation by your own experience...but not their experience and rambling on about your experience isn't helpful to pts in certain degrees if at all).
    Last edit by Antikigirl on Oct 27, '06
  2. by   aggieamy5
    In response to the above poster:

    In the psychotherapy world, one can still emphathize even though he/she has not technically been in the exact same situation. If that were the case, then it would be pretty dang hard to emphathize with most clients or patients, as it would be impossible to have been through every single circumstance these individuals have gone through. In fact, in psychotherapy/counseling, some feel that it is almost better not to have been through the same thing as a client in order to retain true objectivity. This by no means should hinder one's emphathy (trying to truly feel what the other person is feeling/putting yourself in their place). This can been demonstrated to clients by reflection of feelings, summary statements of what they have said, asking them how they are feeling, etc. It is more than simply repeating what they have just said.
  3. by   leslie :-D
    i agree that one needn't experience the others' experiences in order to feel empathy.
    to me, empathy is more of an intuitive feeling.
    it's inborn, if you will, and cannot be learned.
    sympathy, on the other hand, is a conscious acknowledgement of a dismal situation and can indeed be 'taught' as part of therapeutic communication.

  4. by   glenwood
    Listen more talk less. Do not judge the person the same way you judge yourself. Ask questions and listen to the ansers.

    I used to work in AIDS care and had prostitutes, drug addicts, murderers, drug dealers both past and still in the business for patients. I did not aprove. But I listened.

    After awhile I could see how they got to where they were in life. My job was to help them die with as much dignity as posible or to put aside as many of their past mistakes as posible and lead bearable lives. Some of them even turned around and became peer counselors.

    I never knew such people existed before I became a nurse. They were happy that I wanted to know them and help them. Almost everyone who recieves care from a nurse is in pain, usually both physical and mental. Be open to understanding and providing emotional support.

    To the extent you are secure in your own values you will not be changed or threatened by seeing life through their eyes. You will become a better nurse.
  5. by   KarenGeorgeBSRN
    Dear Student,

    Your professor is testing you for truly no one is able to learn empathy; it is a part of your character--some of us have it others do not.

    Empathy is experiencing what your client feels on all levels as if "you are there within them" and they will know it, and react to you knowing it.

    Sympathy is pity and can be insulting to a client; it also can be a method of distancing yourself emotionally to be "above or apart from."

    Be "you" and when "you" imagine that you were so and so; it might help if you are empathetic in character.

    Karen G.
  6. by   Wendy_Leebov
    I teach caring communication skills and here's my view. Sympathy means you feel for the person. If they feel bad, you feel bad for them.
    EMpathy means you recognize and acknolwedge what they're feeling. It remains their feeling, not yours. It's much more powerful.
    Wendy Leebov