Can Empathy Be Taught?

The Big Question

“Can Empathy Be Taught?”


To be empathically attuned to a client is no doubt a cornerstone of effective psychotherapy. But can this vital ingredient of the therapeutic alliance be taught? And if so, what is the neurobiology that drives a keener empathic ability?



THE BIG QUESTION is a regular activity for our Panel of Experts to weigh in on topics of general interest.

Our Panel of Experts will be posting their opinions in the weeks and months ahead, and you will find their posts under this category of ‘Big Questions’


  1. What would really be interesting would be to work on developing a program specifically geared towards those on the low-conscience, socio-path/psychopath end of the personality disorder spectrum.
    Brain scans have shown that these individuals have marked differences in the size of the corpus collosum, amygdala etc. but research has also shown how plastic the brain actually is. We will not know for certain that a siopath’s brain cannot grow new neural connections for increased empathy, or develop alternative pathways until we try different programs for these people.
    I agree with other comments here that there definitely seems to be a drop in empathy levels in younger generations. I have a suspicion that it might be partially an adaptive measure to living with so many billions of other humans.
    I have a sense that innovative means and methods need to be used to impart or tease out latent empathy, mostly through experiential means. None of us ever really took to heart our parents’ insistence that we shoudl “feel sorry for your brother. He is feeling very sick.” t has to come from within, and cannot be forced from without.

  2. Thanks for the insight Fiona. Feel free to bring your discussion over to our network where there are more people engaged and talking about this subject …
    Can Empathy Be Taught? - Network Discussion

  3. I believe empathy is learned when it is received as your brain is forming it’s structure. I learned empathy from my mother who was always always giving me empathy every time I indicated that I needed her for my first 6 years. She gave me her self and her empathy with her every every breath.


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