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Understanding You : A Phenomenological Study about Experiences of Empathy among Social Workers Working with Forced Migrants

Eriksson, Karl LU (2015) SOAM21 20142
School of Social Work
Abstract
Empathy is a widely discussed subject in social work research, considered to be an important professional ability in interaction with clients. In contrast to its pervasiveness in practice, confusion surrounds the notion as different definitions of the phenomenon stands in conflict with each other. The ‘simulation theory’ was found to be a salient conceptualization of empathy in social work where empathy, as the act of understanding other subjects, is explained by terms of an automatic mental imitation of the perceived behavior of the other. As a deliberate act, empathy is hereby best facilitated through perspective taking. The phenomenological ‘interaction theory’ provides an alternative and opposing approach towards empathy, instead... (More)
Empathy is a widely discussed subject in social work research, considered to be an important professional ability in interaction with clients. In contrast to its pervasiveness in practice, confusion surrounds the notion as different definitions of the phenomenon stands in conflict with each other. The ‘simulation theory’ was found to be a salient conceptualization of empathy in social work where empathy, as the act of understanding other subjects, is explained by terms of an automatic mental imitation of the perceived behavior of the other. As a deliberate act, empathy is hereby best facilitated through perspective taking. The phenomenological ‘interaction theory’ provides an alternative and opposing approach towards empathy, instead defining it as a direct intentional presence to the meaning expression of the other. Neither implicit nor explicit perspective taking is therefore necessary for empathic understanding to be reached. The purpose of this study was to explicate the phenomenon of empathy with a qualitative approach. The study was conducted by studying experiences of empathy among five social workers who in different ways met forced migrants in their work. By using a Husserlian phenomenological system of ideas as a methodological framework and research procedure the essential structure of empathy was pursued. The findings of the study suggest that empathy is first and foremost a presence to, and a direct understanding of the other’s experience, thereby supporting interaction theory. In the discussion the simulation theory is argued to be insufficient in providing an exhaustive approach to the professional use of empathy in social work. (Less)
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author
Eriksson, Karl LU
supervisor
organization
course
SOAM21 20142
year
type
H2 - Master's Degree (Two Years)
subject
keywords
empathy, forced migrants, interaction theory, phenomenology, professionals, migration research, migration studies, social work
language
English
id
5010715
date added to LUP
2015-01-29 11:12:49
date last changed
2015-01-29 11:12:49
@misc{5010715,
  abstract     = {Empathy is a widely discussed subject in social work research, considered to be an important professional ability in interaction with clients. In contrast to its pervasiveness in practice, confusion surrounds the notion as different definitions of the phenomenon stands in conflict with each other. The ‘simulation theory’ was found to be a salient conceptualization of empathy in social work where empathy, as the act of understanding other subjects, is explained by terms of an automatic mental imitation of the perceived behavior of the other. As a deliberate act, empathy is hereby best facilitated through perspective taking. The phenomenological ‘interaction theory’ provides an alternative and opposing approach towards empathy, instead defining it as a direct intentional presence to the meaning expression of the other. Neither implicit nor explicit perspective taking is therefore necessary for empathic understanding to be reached. The purpose of this study was to explicate the phenomenon of empathy with a qualitative approach. The study was conducted by studying experiences of empathy among five social workers who in different ways met forced migrants in their work. By using a Husserlian phenomenological system of ideas as a methodological framework and research procedure the essential structure of empathy was pursued. The findings of the study suggest that empathy is first and foremost a presence to, and a direct understanding of the other’s experience, thereby supporting interaction theory. In the discussion the simulation theory is argued to be insufficient in providing an exhaustive approach to the professional use of empathy in social work.},
  author       = {Eriksson, Karl},
  keyword      = {empathy,forced migrants,interaction theory,phenomenology,professionals,migration research,migration studies,social work},
  language     = {eng},
  note         = {Student Paper},
  title        = {Understanding You : A Phenomenological Study about Experiences of Empathy among Social Workers Working with Forced Migrants},
  year         = {2015},
}