Nursing and Empathy

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Empathy is one of the key communication skills used and needed in nursing to give patients the best outcome possible, whilst under the duty of care in a hospital. Empathy builds trust and respect between the nurse and patient. To earn the trust and respect of a patient, the nurse needs to take a step back and employ active listening (the practice of listening to what has been said and repeating back to show understanding) when communicating with the patient to understand what the patient’s needs and requirements are. Using active listening shows the patient that they have understood the patient correctly and have genuine concern for the needs. The nurse has to leave their personal situation, thoughts and beliefs separate from the patient’s situation. Although some say empathy is a teachable, comprehensible skill which nurses get better and more comfortable with as their on the job experience grows, other nurses seem to have empathetic traits It is important to use empathy correctly as the line between empathy and sympathy can sometimes be crossed or fade into a ‘grey area’ for those who don’t understand it correctly or cannot differentiate between the two, which is quite common, as feeling sorry for someone comes more easily than looking at the situation from another person’s perspective.

The definition of empathy has changed significantly from the original definition which dates back to the 1880’s when German psychologist Theodore Lipps used the term “einfuhlung” or “in-feelings” to described the emotional appreciation of another’s feelings (Ioannidou 2008). Empathy in nursing is a newer concept, which started to be recognised as part of the nursing profession and an important part of the nurse-patient relationship and communication skills in the 1950s. Empathy is not just about sensing or perceiving what a patient means accurately but communicating this back to the patient that you understand exactly what the patient wants and needs (White 1997)....
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