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The experience of empathy from the perspectives of nurses and consumers of acute mental health services
journal contributionposted on 24.08.2020, 00:00 by Adam GeraceAdam Gerace, D O'Kane, C Hayman, K Mose, E Muir-Cochrane
Empathy is interwoven through therapeutic relationships between health professionals and consumers. However, the process of empathy in nursing has been considered complex and often poorly understood. Approaching empathy as a series of processes (e.g. role taking) and outcomes (e.g. empathic emotion, personal distress), this study investigated the perspectives of both nurses and consumers regarding empathy during an acute care mental health admission. In semi-structured interviews, nurses (n = 13) and consumers in recovery (n = 7) discussed a time when they had experienced empathy toward a consumer (nurse) or had felt understood (consumers) during a confl ict situation on the ward, such as a disagreement, when a consumer did not want to take medication, or when restraint/seclusion was used. Data was thematically analysed and the unique perceptions of nurses and consumers explored. Themes to emerge revolved around the idea that empathy is intricate and demonstrated in a number of ways. Specifi c skills such as active listening, professional boundaries and advocacy became central to understanding another’s perspective yet were not always demonstrated. Consumers stressed the importance of nurses trying to appreciate their experiences, and suggested several ways that empathic engagement could occur within the more task-focused roles of nurses. Nurses discussed tensions that exist within their role and the challenge of their own biases and emotional reactions in their care of a consumer. This study is useful to consider the similarities and differences of empathic engagement from both the consumer and nurse perspective to increase understandings of empathy and facilitate its development when working with others.