Empathy, Compassion & Self-Compassion

TEACHING EMPATHY: A Framework Rooted in Social Cognitive Neuroscience and Social Justice, Gerdes et al. (Journal of Social Work Education, Winter 2011)

Authors propose that a “targeted and structured explication of empathy is a useful, if not essential, foundation for social work theory and practice.” In the article, they outline a social work framework for empathy using recent findings in the field of social cognitive neuroscience in addition to the social work context as its roots. Their aim is to help students understand the basic process of neural pathway developments involved in created empathic responses and to develop and maintain cognitive empathic abilities. Additionally, they hope to teach students to use their knowledge, values and skills, informed by empathy, to take empathic action consciously.



The Finnish authors report on the impact of a 12-hour empathy education program that was given to 32 six-year-old children over a period of 12 months. Several tests were used to rate the students pre- and post-participation in the program. The tests showed a significant increase in empathy and pro-sociability for the test group and no significant increase among the controls.


SELF-COMPASSION TO UNPLEASANT SELF-RELEVANT EVENTS: The Implications of Treating Oneself Kindly (Leary et al. 2007)

An article on five studies on the cognitive and emotional processes in which self-compassionate people deal with unpleasant life events. Self-compassion (SC) is defined as being open to and moved by one’s own suffering, experiencing feelings of caring and kindness towards oneself, taking an understanding, nonjudgmental attitude towards one’s inadequacies and failures, and recognizing that one’s experience is part of the common human experience. The studies found that SC attenuates people’s reactions to negative events in ways that are distinct from and, in some cases, more beneficial than self-esteem.


LEADERSHIP THAT GETS RESULTS, Daniel Goleman (Harvard Business Review, March-April 2000)

Idea in Brief: Research has shown that the most successful leaders have strengths in the following emotional intelligence competencies: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills. There are six basic styles of leadership; each makes use of the key components of emotional intelligence in different combinations. The best leaders don’t know just one style of leadership – they’re skilled at several and have the flexibility to switch between styles as the circumstances dictate.


WITHIN CONNECTIONS: Empathy, Mirror Neurons, and Art Education, Jeffers, 2009

The writer explores the relationship between empathy, mirror neurons, and art education. First, she presents results of neuroscientific research identifying the neurological basis of empathy. Then, she presents anecdotal evidence from pre-service art education courses for links between mirror neurons, empathic social interaction, and anesthetic response. Finally, she outlines implications for classroom practice.



This article develops the hypothesis that intervention strategies that cultivate positive emotions are particularly suited for preventing and treating problems rooted in negative emotion, such as anxiety, depression, aggression and stress-related health problems.


YOU GOTTA HAVE HEART, Christopher Germer, 2006

Author’s thoughts and research on Self-Compassion. Excerpt from the article: “What we’re trying to do with mindfulness is evoke a complete state of mind, much as a hologram can project an image into the center of a room, or a poem can illuminate a perception in the heart of the listener. Within the cognitive-behavioral tradition, the word acceptance, or radical acceptance (to use Marsha Linehan’s expression), is used typically to convey the nature of mindfulness. I’ve found, however, from personal and clinical experience, that other words are necessary to evoke the heart quality of mindfulness. They include tenderness, care, self-compassion, loving kindness, and simply love.”

Read more: http://www.mindfulselfcompassion.org/articles/YouGottaHaveHeart.html


Is Being Compassionate Healthy?, Dr. James Doty, 2011

Excerpt from article: “Compassion is defined as the embodiment and recognition of another person’s suffering coupled with a sincere desire to alleviate that suffering. Every one of us has suffered, is suffering or will, at some point, suffer. It has been stated many times that survival is of the fittest, but when one reads Darwin closely this is not the case. Rather, the more accurate statement, coined by Dacher Keltner, Ph.D. and other leading social scientists, is “the survival of the kindest.” Paul Ekman, Ph.D., a leading expert on emotion describes an ever expanding body of scientific evidence that being compassionate affords significant benefit to oneself and society in his recent article in JAMA. In addition to evidence that survival may be enhanced by caring for others, there are now findings suggesting that the statement made by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, “if one wishes to make others happy be compassionate, if one wishes to be happy be compassionate,” in fact, has great validity.”

Read more: http://ccare.stanford.edu/content/being-compassionate-healthy