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TOURNAL OF PHENOMENOLOGICAL i«« "«n«! •" nil ojltal '-flV, -' PSYCHOLOGY 45 (2014) 5-26 BRILL brill.com/jpp Empathy Training from a Phenomenological Perspective Magnus Engländer Malmö University, Malmö, Sweden [email protected] Abstract The purpose of this article is to outline a phenomenological approach to empathy training developed over the past ten years in the context of higher education. The the- oretical justification for this empathy training is founded in the phenomenological philosophical interpretation of the phenomenon of empathy, whereas the application of empathy as a skill is theoretically based upon entering the phenomenological atti- tude. The phenomenon of empathy is described as a unique intentionality as part of the self-other relation and contrasted to mainstreams views such as simulation theory. It is argued that the phenomenological attitude can open up for the possibility of empathy and interpersonal understanding to occur. The consecutive steps of the phe- nomenologically based empathy training are described as relating to theoretical and pedagogical issues as well as to student's experiences. Keywords empathy - phenomenology - supervision Introduction Frans de Waal (2009), the famous primatologist, claims that we now live in "The Age of Empathy," whereas leading philosophers on the subject matter, like Karsten Stueber (2006), calls for a "Rediscovery of Empathy" (showing a demise of the topic throughout the 20th century, especially in terms of its epis- temic status). In the fields of clinical, counseling, and social psychology, empa- thy has been a prevalent topic, although, on a critical reading, one could claim © KONINKLIJKE BRILL NV, LEIDEN, 2014 | DO! 10,1163/15691624-12341266
Page 1: Phenomenological perspectives

TOURNAL OF PHENOMENOLOGICAL i«« "«n«!•" nil ojltal

'-flV, -' PSYCHOLOGY 45 (2014) 5-26

BRILL brill.com/jpp

Empathy Training from a PhenomenologicalPerspective

Magnus EngländerMalmö University, Malmö, Sweden

[email protected]


The purpose of this article is to outline a phenomenological approach to empathytraining developed over the past ten years in the context of higher education. The the-oretical justification for this empathy training is founded in the phenomenologicalphilosophical interpretation of the phenomenon of empathy, whereas the applicationof empathy as a skill is theoretically based upon entering the phenomenological atti-tude. The phenomenon of empathy is described as a unique intentionality as part ofthe self-other relation and contrasted to mainstreams views such as simulation theory.It is argued that the phenomenological attitude can open up for the possibility ofempathy and interpersonal understanding to occur. The consecutive steps of the phe-nomenologically based empathy training are described as relating to theoretical andpedagogical issues as well as to student's experiences.


empathy - phenomenology - supervision


Frans de Waal (2009), the famous primatologist, claims that we now live in"The Age of Empathy," whereas leading philosophers on the subject matter,like Karsten Stueber (2006), calls for a "Rediscovery of Empathy" (showing ademise of the topic throughout the 20th century, especially in terms of its epis-temic status). In the fields of clinical, counseling, and social psychology, empa-thy has been a prevalent topic, although, on a critical reading, one could claim

© KONINKLIJKE BRILL NV, LEIDEN, 2014 | DO! 10,1163/15691624-12341266

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tbat tbe pbenomenon bas been vaguely defined or described (Copian & Goldie,2011). Also, like most psycbological pbenomena in the past century, it bas beendeemed to be a pbenomenon to operationally define and measure, even bybumanistic psycbologists sucb as Carl Rogers (1989, 226-227). Empatby basprobably received its most notable, critical examination in tbe theory of minddebate in pbilosopby between tbe so-called tbeory-tbeorist and tbe simulationtbeorists (see for example, Zabavi, 2005; Gallagber & Zabavi, 2008). Tbe con-temporary debate in tbe pbilosopby of social cognition between tbe so-calledtbeory-tbeorists, simulation tbeorists, and pbenomenologists can be tracedback to an old dispute in tbe beginning of tbe 2otb century (Zabavi, 2010) andis, if one is not convinced by any of tbe three alternatives, still unsettled. Tbediscovery of tbe mirror neurons (Di Pellegrino et al., 1992) bas set tbe stakeseven bigber for tbe most reasonable interpretation of tbis pbenomenon. Eventbougb tbe simulation tbeorists seem to be controlling tbe mainstream view,contemporary pbenomenological pbilosopbers like Gallagber & Zabavi (2008)are convincingly rejecting tbeir interpretation.

Explaining or describing empatby as a pbenomenon is one tbing, but teacb-ing it as a skill in bigber education is another. For example, tbe mainstreamview explains empatby in terms of simulation and activation of tbe mirrorneurons, but bow would we teacb tbe students to perform sucb simulationsand activate tbeir mirror neurons? First of all, and as Sartre (1956) bas madeclear, we do not encounter tbe body of tbe other sucb as tbe body as describedby pbysiology, making tbe finding of tbe mirror neurons quite limited in termsof, for example, supervising a student during practicum. Nevertheless, evenif we leave out tbe possibility of activating tbe student's mirror neurons, tbemainstream explanation provided by simulation tbeory (be it implicit orexplicit simulation tbeory) are still "sbortcuts" to tbe more laborious descrip-tive account of wbat is taking place in tbe processes wben one understands tbeotber (Zabavi, 2012). Wbat seems to be needed is a more descriptive pbenom-enological account of empatby in order to aid tbe student in making explicitwbat is actually going on wben one understands tbe otber well.

Hence, it is my attempt bere to provide an outline of an understanding ofempatby from a pbenomenological perspective meant as a foundation for apbenomenologically based empatby training for students studying towards aprofession in wbicb tbe buman encounter is a vital constituent. Tbe focus willbe on empatby as a particular pbenomenon in its own rigbt and also empatbyas a deliberate professional activity, acbieved by entering into a specific typeof attitude (i.e., tbe pbenomenological attitude). It is wortb mentioning tbat afew years ago tbere was an attempt by Englander & Robinson (2009) at mak-ing a very brief sketcb of tbis particular type of empatby training in a nursing


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journal in the Swedish language, making its availability limited to the Nordiccountries and to the field of nursing. In contrast, this is the more fully devel-oped attempt and the result from ten years of practical, pedagogical work inhigher education across several disciplines (e.g., psychology, social work, nurs-ing, physical therapy, occupational therapy, organizational studies, etc.).


There has been an unsettled dispute for over loo years within the field of phi-losophy in regard to the phenomenon of empathy. The disagreement seemsto have started with Theodor Lipps' famous critique of John Stuart Mill's argu-ment that we know others from analogical inference (Stueber, 2006). Lippspointed out that analogical inference was not the base for how we know oth-ers, but instead imitation or projection was the foundation for knowing otherminds (Zahavi, 2001). The English term Empathy was originally coined byEdward B. Titchener in an attempt to translate Theodor Lipps' German wordEinßhlung (Copian & Goldie, 2011). Phenomenologists such as Max Scheler,Edmund Husserl, and Edith Stein welcomed Lipps' critical remarks of analogi-cal inference, although they disagreed with him on the account that empathywas about imitation or projection (Zahavi, 2010). Scheler, Husserl, and Stein,although disagreeing among each other on some of the aspects of empathy,can still be united in viewing the phenomenon as an intentionality directedtowards the other's experience (Zahavi, 2010). Importantly, Mill, Lipps, and thephenomenologists did agree on one thing, which was the fact that it is impossi-ble to have somebody else's primary experience. Consequently, Mill and Lippsexplained how we knevi' others based upon a process relating to oneself; thatis, inference or imitation/projection. However, the phenomenologists came toa different conclusion. Because of the fact that we can not enter into anotherperson's stream of consciousness, we are automatically faced with the funda-mental distinction between self and other, and in understanding the otherour intentionality must include the relation self-other and cannot simply beaccounted for in terms of inference or imitation/projection. The phenomeno-logical critique against both these accounts is that empathy is a distinct inten-tionality (and thus has its own unique quality) characterized by the contextself-relating-to-the-other (which is where the phenomenon appears), and notas an explanation of what is going on in the self-relating-to-the-self as charac-terized both by inference and imitation/projection.

Mill's position has in some ways been taken over by today's so-calledtheory-theorist, with the term theory having replaced the term inference,


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whereas Lipps' account of imitation/projection has been replaced by simula-tion by the simulation theorists (Zahavi, 2010). Now, this is a simplified accountdue to the many hybrid versions as well as the disagreements between theexplicit and the implicit simulation theorists (Gallagher & Zahavi, 2008); how-ever, it provides the necessary background for our purposes here. The positionof the phenomenologists is basically the same today and their critique is latelydirected towards the simulation theorist. Contemporary phenomenologicalphilosophers, such as Dan Zahavi (e.g., 2001, 2005, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012),have written extensively on the issue. As mentioned above, Zahavi (2010) islately trying to make a fruitful attempt at integrating the positions of Scheler,Husserl, and Stein, and to focus on perhaps the strongest argument, which isthat empathy is a unique intentionality of its own and directed towards theother's experience. By doing so, the phenomenological account can providean alternative interpretation for the mirror neurons in relating it to the phe-nomenology of perception, instead of acts of implicit simulation (Gallagher& Zahavi, 2008). The problem with the simulation interpretation is that itdirectly points to the self-relating-to-one's-self, which is not the self-relating-to-the-other that we are trying to understand by empathy. As Gallagher &Zahavi (2008,177) write, "If I project the results of my own simulation on to theother, I understand only myself in that other situation, but I don't necessarilyunderstand the other."

As mentioned earlier, empathy has also been a prevalent topic within fieldssuch as clinical, counseling, and social psychology as well as within ethology.In social psychology, theories of moral development, psychometrics, and ina sense even in ethology, empathy has been viewed as some basic trait relat-ing to altruism (Copian & Goldie, 2011). Clinical and counseling psychologyhas mostly portrayed empathy as seen from Heinz Kohut's and Carl Rogers'interpretations, and these, I would say, are a continuation of Lipps' view,although Rogers' account is at times bordering on the phenomenological posi-tion (Copian & Goldie, 2011). Nevertheless, as Spiegelberg (1972) has pointedout, Rogers was never a phenomenologist in a Husserlian sense. Rogers clearlysought the operationalization of empathy, even though he also has madeattempts to describe it within the context of psychotherapy. According toRogers' (1989, 226) empathy is, "To sense the client's private world as if it wereyour own, but without ever losing the 'as if quality—this Is empathy, and thisseems essential to therapy." Now, such a statement can be interpreted in manydifferent ways, but they would all imply "as if" as a mode of simulation. In otherwords, we are still on the relation between self-relating-to-self.

Phenomenological speaking, I would say that the shortcoming of theRogerian approach to empathy along with mainstream psychological


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approaches, for example, cognitive-behavioral psychology, is that such theo-ries are characterized hy a representational theory of mind in which the self isrelating to self, may it he through imitation/projection or cognitive inference.In other words, if one looks at empathy from the mainstream psychologicalperspective, one would not he ahle to "leave" the self and relate to the other (orto the world), but everything must be explained in terms of a representationaltheory of mind. As Husserl has written,

The ego is not a tiny man in a box that looks at the pictures and thenoccasionally leaves his box in order to compare the external objects withthe internal ones, etc. For such a picture-observing ego, the picture woulditself be something external; it would require its own matching internalpicture, and so on ad infinitum. (Husserl, 2003, p. 106 and quoted on p. 92in Gallagher & Zahavi, 2008).

Therefore, the representational theory of consciousness seems to be the prob-lem with most mainstream psychological theories of empathy, including CarlRogers', as well as the simulation theorists' interpretation in neurobiology.Nevertheless, even though the contemporary neurobiologists seem to favor theimplicit simulation interpretation of empathy, some scientists, for exampleGállese, have made attempts to merge with the phenomenological interpreta-tion (Zahavi, 2012). In other words, the interpretation of empathy still seemsto be heavily debated, although there is a mainstream view holding on to thesimulation metaphor; hence, denying empathy to be understood as a distinctintentionality between the relation of self and other.

The problems with such fundamental differences in the understanding ofempathy becomes obvious the moment we try to use the word in higher edu-cation, supervision, and empathy training and assume that we all talk aboutthe same phenomenon. This observation alone has also caused the work ofpsychologists trying to show the importance of empathy for the therapeuticprocess to be heavily critiqued (Copian & Goldie, 2011). How can psychologistsevaluate and measure something with which they are not in agreement? Infact, most explanatory models of empathy seem difficult to exercise in practicalpedagogical situations such as the context of supervision or empathy training.As mentioned earlier, how would we teach empathy as simulation? Even if wewere successful in such an attempt, would such a simulation be perceived bythe other as an intentional act being directed towards their lived experience?

In other words, the overall problem with the natural scientific perspective onlifeworld phenomena is that it is taking the human quality out ofthe phenom-ena and making them abstract and inaccessible. The quality of an experience


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is constituted by meanings as expressed in the context of the lifeworld andthey are not tangible like physical objects and it seems that there is no real rea-son, except that we would like to be natural scientific, for a justification for arepresentational theory of mind or a simulation theory of empathy This is notto say that we should not be natural scientific and disqualify an important dis-covery such as the mirror neurons, but we should be careful not to prematurelynaturalize the lifeworld (Zahavi, 2005). In other words, if we aim at teachingsomething so valuable such as empathy and interpersonal understanding forour future health related professions, we also need to make the phenomenonaccessible in terms of the lifeworld.

Obviously, there are many types of empathy trainings discussed in the liter-ature. For example, in prevention of adolescence aggression (e.g., Feshbach &Feshbach, 1982; Pecukonis, 1990), in terms of improving health care (e.g.. LaMonica et al., 1987), and to increase the ability to recognize emotions in oth-ers (e.g., Kremer & Dietzen, 1991), and in terms of counseling psychology (e.g.,Duan, C. & Hill, C. E., 1996). However, there seems to be no indication thatthere is an empathy training that is systematically based upon a Husserlianphenomenological perspective.' It is well worth noting that in an attempt toestablish a phenomenologically based empathy training, I have relied heavilyon the work of phenomenological philosopher Dan Zahavi (e.g., 2001, 2005,2007,2008,2010, 2011,2012).

The Phenomenology of Empathy

What is empathy? Empathy is an intentionality directed towards the other'sexperience (Zahavi, 2010,291). In other words, it is qualitatively different fromlet's say remembering something, or thinking about something, or simulat-ing something, or making inferences about something, or sharing someone'semotions, or being caught up in emotional contagion, or seeing something,or feeling something. Empathy is characterized by a certain quality of experi-ence with a relation to what is experienced, that is, the other, that is unlike therelation to one's self or to an inanimate object (Zahavi, 2012). Obviously we areunable to enter the stream of consciousness of another person and to perceive

1 There is a previous attempt to apply the Husserlian perspective to praxis by Barbro Giorgi(2005), although her work was aimed for the specific context of psychotherapy, whereas theattempt described in this paper is motivated to work across disciplines and also specificallyworked out in terms of the phenomenology of empathy.


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tbe Otber person's primary experience. Hence, empatby is always constitutedin tbe absence of tbe direct perception of tbe otber's experience, resulting inan irreducible form of co-presence, tbat Husserl calls analogical appercep-tion witb tbe term analogy referring to tbe fact tbat we are present to anotberconsciousness. Tbe analogical appresentation of tbe otber can also be consti-tuted by a passive syntbesis tbat Husserl calls pairing, meaning tbat "patternsof understanding are gradually established tbrougb a process of sedimenta-tion and tbey thereby come to influence subsequent experiences..." (Zabavi,

2012, 235).

However, tbere migbt be an objection bere in terms of tbe previous argu-ments against simulation. Is not tben pairing or analogy anotber way of sayingsimulation? Tbe answer is no, because Husserl is referring to sometbing morefundamental and tbus indicating tbat we are, on a pre-reflective meaninglevel, present to anotber lived, animate object (Zabavi, 2012). Take for exampleMeltzoff's and Moore's classic studies in wbicb tbe infant already at tbe ageof 72 bours are able to imitate tbe experimenter's facial expression, witbouttbe knowledge or awareness wbat tbeir own body looks like (see for example,Gallagber, 2005,70-71). If one considers tbe pbenomenological interpretationof empatby as analogical apperception, tben it must be accounted for in termsof a distinct type of intentionality tbat is directed towards tbe otber, and nota relation to oneself as in tbe acts of so-called simulation. Tbe fact tbat "pre-vious meaning" as in pairing is part of tbe act of analogical apperception isnot enough to say tbat simulation is tbe foundation for empatby. According toZabavi (2010),

Pbenomenologists would typically not dispute tbat self-experience isa pre-condition for otber-experience. But tbere is a decisive differencebetween arguing tbat tbe former is a necessary condition (and tbat tberewould be no otber-experience in its absence) and claiming tbat self-experience somebow serves as a model for otber-experience, as if inter-personal understanding is basically a question of projecting oneself intotbe otber. (295)

Hence, simulation is not tbe same tbing as analogical apperception.In understanding empatby, it is also important to consider tbe distinction

between empirical fact versus meaning and intentionality. We migbt be ableto question tbe factual (empirical) aspect of somebody's experience of some-tbing, but we can't question tbe experience as it presents itself to conscious-ness. For example, if somebody bad tbe experience of being followed at work.


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we could put up cameras to see if he or she was empirically right or wrong, butthis does not take away that the person's experience of being followed at workstill has meaning. Thus, phenomenological empathy demands of a person thathe or she directs his or her intentionality towards the other person's meaningexpression, and not so much to the empirical facts (although this could be partof the intentionality and thus cannot be completely ruled out). In other vv̂ ords,the empirical perspective leads us to an explanation of the other whereas afocus on the intentionality of the other helps us to understand the other. Thesame holds true of the distinction between agency and ownership (Gallagher& Zahavi, 2008). For instance, when a person is in need of professional help,be it in nursing, social work, clinical psychology, etc., such a person is usuallyin a state of a loss of agency (e.g., a broken leg, addiction, hallucinations, etc.).Gallagher & Zahavi (2008,160) writes.

In schizophrenic symptoms of delusions of control or thought insertion,the sense of ownership is retained in some form, but the sense of agencyis missing. The schizophrenic who suffers from these delusions will claimthat his body is moving but that someone else is causing the movement;or that there are thoughts in his mind, but that someone else is puttingthem there. (Italics in original)

In other words, by approaching the person's ownership, instead of the lossor lack of agency, we are also approaching the person's intentionality (i.e., anexperience of something) and we thus make an attempt at understanding theother. Explanations, on the other hand, would focus on causality of the condi-tion, diagnosis, and plausible treatment of the symptoms. Interventions basedon explanations are obviously also useful in working with others, however, it isnot the same as understanding.

As stated earlier, empathy is a distinct form of intentionality and is not tobe confused or fused with closely related phenomena such as, sympathy, car-ing, being nice, providing service, helping somebody to solve a problem, etc.Scheler, Husserl, and Stein all agreed that empathy is distinct different fromsympathy, emotional contagion, and emotional sharing already in the begin-ning of the 20th century (Zahavi, 2010). According to Zahavi (2010),

Thus, for Scheler as well as for Stein and Husserl, empathy is a basic, irre-ducible, form of intentionality that is directed towards the experiencesof others. It is a question of understanding other experiencing subjects.But this doesn't entail that the other's experience is literally transmittedto us. Rather, it amounts to experiencing, say, the other person's emotion


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without being in the corresponding emotional state yourself. We mightof course encounter a furious neighbor and become furious ourselves,but our empathie understanding of our neighbor's emotion might alsoelicit a quite different response, namely the feeling of fear. In either case,however, our emotional reaction is exactly that—a reaction. It is a con-sequence of our understanding of the other's emotion, and not a pre-condition or pre-requisite for this understanding. (291)

In other words, empathy is a unique form of intentionality that can openup for something even more fundamental such as intersubjectivity (Zahavi,2001,2005).

But let us also take a look at Husserl's use of the phenomenological reduc-tion in understanding empathy and see how this can lead us further into theessence of the phenomenon. According to Husserl (2006),

I, who in the natural attitude find myself vis-à-vis another lived bodyand another 1-subject, which is related to the same surrounding as myown, perform the phenomenological reduction, which yields the follow-ing: When the natural objects, which I have experience, are subjected tobracketing and reduction they yield certain subjective connections ofconsciousness along with the pertinent systems of motivated possibilitiesof consciousness... The apperception... through which the body is con-stituted for me, is connected to appresentations. And they are connectedby way of a legitimating motivation, in the unity of a self-legitimatingapperception of a higher level ("apperception of a human being"). Onthis higher level is posited a human being and, through empathy, a sec-ond I. The second I regards internally this other animated body over thereas his lived body. And organized around his lived body, which is given tohim by impressions, he looks at a particular part of nature, which is thevery same for me, although to him it is given in different forms, throughwhich it appears, and through other forms of consciousness. (154)

As we can see, by performing the phenomenological reduction, empathyreveals "a second I" or as Husserl (1989, 239) states in Ideas II, "Here it is another Ego." This particular notion of empathy is also present in the work ofHusserl's student Edith Stein (1989). Meneses and Larkin (2012, 176) haverecently shown in their review of Stein's work that, "The direct implicationof the nature of empathy is that selfness and otherness are never absent orconfused." As Zahavi (2010, 291) writes, "That is, the distance between self andother is preserved and upheld." In other words, the intentionality should have


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its focus on the other as other if it should count as empathy in a phenomeno-logical sense. Hence, apperception is unlike perception in that we never havethe possibility of perceiving the other side as with an inanimate object, butinstead, it is characterized by an indisputable absence. Now such limitations tothe other person's primary experience does not mean that we should not try tounderstand other people's experiences in terms of the self-other relation andinstead aim for simulation or making inferences.

Nevertheless, it seems like empathy's connection to altruism in socialpsychology and ethology (see for example. Copian & Goldie, 2011) could bea merger between sympathy and empathy, which is problematic since theseare two distinct intentionalities. This is not to say that they cannot be fusedtogether making it a particular intentionality of its own. However, I would saythat fusing empathy and sympathy makes it difficult to teach or supervise stu-dents, because the difference between the two helps students to more clearlysee the usefulness of empathy as it can relate to sympathy. Other questionsalso arise here, such as, if one needs to care in order to help somebody (i.e.,understanding is not enough) or if one needs to understand the other in orderto help somebody (i.e., caring is not enough). Such a discussion would be lostif we fused empathy and sympathy. In addition, imagine the loss ofthe impor-tant discussion in regard to ethics in supervision if we merged empathy with,for example, emotional sharing. The point here is to see the value of essentialphilosophical distinctions and the phenomenological perspective in explicat-ing lifeworld phenomena.

We know that empathy can happen pre-reflectively as explicated anddescribed by phenomenological philosophers, but we need to figure out howto do it in order to be able to train students to become better at it. There is thephenomenological attitude that can help us in order for empathy to unfoldin terms of praxis. Remember that all other theories of empathy (e.g., theory-theory and simulation theory) emphasize that our focus is a relation to ourself (inference, simulation, projection, etc.), which is qualitatively a differenttype of intentionality. In other words, by adopting the phenomenological atti-tude philosophers can provide us with a description of empathy, but the praxisperspective also demands a similar shift in attitude that can be used in a prag-matic sense so we can be involved in deliberate professional empathy when weneed to. This is not to say that empathy needs to be deliberate to occur, but itcan be and this is where we need to start if we are to teach it. The phenomeno-logical attitude will serve as our point of departure for a deliberate professionalempathy to be possible. One could say that the phenomenological attitude canopen up for empathy to occur in praxis.


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Let US take a closer look at the phenomenological attitude and how it relatesto doing empathy. Giorgi (2007) describes this first step in Husserl's method asfollows,

With Husserl's method, the key step is the first one—the assumptionof the transcendental phenomenological attitude. To assume the tran-scendental perspective means to adopt an attitude of consciousness thattranscends the orientation toward the human mode of being consciousand that is also free from worldly and empirical assumptions. To be in thephenomenological attitude means two things: performing the epoché (or"bracketing") and the reduction, which refrains from positing the exis-tence of whatever is given. To bracket means to put aside all knowledgeof the phenomenon being explored or investigated that is not due to theactual instance of this phenomenon. Thus all past knowledge derivedfrom readings or other secondary sources, as well as one's former per-sonal experiences with the phenomenon, are meant to be excluded. Thereduction refers to the fact that one has to refrain from positing the exis-tence of the given that is encountered as normally happens in the naturalattitude. One considers the given, even if it is real, simply as somethingpresent to one's consciousness without affirming that it exists in the waythat it presents itself It is taken to be something present to one's con-sciousness—a phenomenon, not a reality. It is a reduction from existenceto presence. (64)

As we can see, bracketing and the phenomenological reduction providesus with the openness to the presence to irreal aspects in the other person'sexpression, without having to affirm existence of what we are being pres-ent to. Through somebody's expression we can be co-present to the other'sexperience of something. An expression does include the act-object rela-tion. For example, 1 saw a woman at the train station the other day crying ina sad way while she was talking to somebody on her cell phone. Her objectwas not known to me, but I still knew something about it from her expres-sion. I could see that she cried in a sad way (as opposed to crying becauseshe was happy), hence providing me with some of the meaning about theobject. In other words, through her expression I knew something aboutthe irreal qualities about the object. Hence, even though the object is notentirely known to me, it is still possible that I could empathize with this per-son. Thus, expression unfolds some of the experiental life of the other andit is possible through the phenomenological attitude for me to be present to


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meanings by directing my intentionality to tbe experience of tbe otber, tbatis, to empatbize.

Phenomenological Theory in a Practical Pedagogical Context

Tbe road to establisbing a pbenomenologically based empatby training basbeen difficult since I was forced to make certain difficult cboices in terms of tbepbenomenological position. How was I to teacb tbe student to perform ana-logical apperceptions in a practical situation? Obviously, I was not in a strictpbilosopbical or buman scientific context. Instead, I was in a teacbing situa-tion and I wanted to facilitate students to be able to deliberately direct tbeirintentionality toward tbe otber person's experience in order for interpersonalunderstanding to occur. Even tbougb I was not in a pbilosopbical context, tbepbenomenological attitude seemed like a good place to start, altbougb somemodifications was necessary in order for Husserlian pbenomenology to fit tbecontext I was in as well as being relevant to empatby. First, one was to bracketone's existential assumptions about tbe content tbat was expressed by tbeotber. Second, tbe otber's expression was to be reduced to presences, wbereastbe otber is to be reduced to co-presence. However, tbe act of tbe otber can-not be reduced, and bence one could say tbat I was working from a modifiedversion of tbe psycbological reduction as far as tbe expression of tbe otber wasconcerned, similar to its use in human science (Giorgi, 2009). If notbing else,tbese modifications are in need of furtber clarification and sometbing tbat willbe worked on in tbe future.

Pragmatically, I created tbe scenario that the other should start the encoun-ter with the experience of a problem, wbicb is usually tbe reason one is in tbecontext of psycbological, medical, social, or otber "belp" situations. (Obviously,one does not bave to experience a problem witbin tbis context; bowever, tbiswas a practical way to start.) Now, since tbe otber experienced a problem, tbestudents were faced witb dealing witb anotber I wbo experienced an inten-tional object (i.e., tbe problem). In order to create a sense of openness towardtbe otber, I started witb introducing tbe pbenomenological attitude. Tbe stu-dent needed to use bracketing and tbe psycbological reduction in order tosuspend tbe existential assumptions about tbe otber's expression in orderto be present to meanings. For example, if tbe otber said tbat be or sbe wasfeeling depressed, explanations were not sought, but instead tbe student wasinstructed to understand tbe experience of tbe otber. In otber words, I begantbis project by teacbing tbe pbenomenological attitude in order to open up fora sense of co-presence towards the otber's experience. Nevertbeless, one could


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at least say that I was trying to facilitate empathy through the phenomenologi-cal attitude, although, at first, it was done in a rather sketchy way.

By using the phenomenological attitude as our point of departure in orderto open up for empathy, might seem problematic. In particular, in trying todirect a student's intentionality towards the other's experience might indicatethat one has direct access to the other's primary experience; however, this isnot the case. Husserl (1999,109) reminds us that "If it were, if what belongs tothe other's own essence were directly accessible, it would be merely a momentof my own essence, and ultimately he himself and I myself would be the same."What is it then that we are supposed to be co-present to within the phenom-enological attitude? Since the body of the other is not perceived as a physicalobject in apperception, but as a lived body expressing something. Now, thereare a lot of different takes on what expression means depending upon whichphenomenological philosopher one consults (see for example Zahavi, 2010).However, since we are trying to teach or supervise students how to adopt thephenomenological attitude in order to understand the other, we at least haveto look at the expressed meanings of the other. In other words, if somebody isexperiencing and expressing something there is meaning that rest on inten-tionality that one can be present to. Zahavi (2010, 294) drawing from EdithStein's work provides us with an example,

. . . let us consider a situation where a friend tells me that he has lost hismother, and I become aware of his distress. What kind of awareness isthis? I obviously don't see the distress the same way I see the colour of hisshirt rather I see the distress 'in' his pained countenance... In this case,it makes sense to say that I experience (rather than imagine or infer) hisdistress, though I certainly do lack a first-person experience of the dis-tress; it is not my distress, (italics in original)

Now, there is much more to be said about the relation between the phenom-enological attitude, expression, and empathy; however, this is not the place togo further into this issue.

Let us conclude this section by answer the following question: What thentheoretically justifies a phenomenological approach to empathy training?First, the experiential understanding of empathy as a lifeworld phenomenonmakes training possible. Second, the phenomenological attitude can help us toprovide the student with a starting point in order to make empathy possible.Third, a phenomenological account of empathy as a distinct type of intention-ality also gives the student a clear sense of whose experience they are dealingwith. All the other approaches towards empathy seem to blur this last point.


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making it difficult for the student to clearly see the difference between, self,other, empathy, sympathy, emotional sharing, emotional contagion, etc.

Empathy Training

The practice of empathy training from a phenomenological perspective con-sists of three steps that build upon each other. These steps can also be repeatedat different educational levels, for example, as part of a freshman course andlater in a senior pre-practicum, to continue as part of supervision during pract-icum, and also as part of a graduate course, etc. Because of its foundation inphenomenology, the empathy training can be used by any discipline in whichunderstanding the other is seen as a vital ingredient. In step l, the student ispresented with the whole (i.e., the phenomenology of empathy, the phenom-enological attitude, the steps of the empathy training, etc.). Then during step2 the student work through the empathy training in which recordings of inter-personal encounters are used. Step 3 which is a theoretical task as it relates tothe individual student's own development through the training in step 2. Letme go through each of the consecutive steps.

The first step provides the student with the whole picture, that is, the phe-nomenology of empathy and some necessary aspects of Husserl's phenom-enology. This can be achieved using the traditional lecture format presentingphenomenology and empathy, covering the theoretical content as describedabove. Although it is important that one puts the phenomenological positionin contrast to the empirical perspective since this will make the phenomeno-logical perspective clear for the student. The introduction to intentionality andthe phenomenological attitude is essential as well as the use of distinctionssuch as meaning versus fact, understanding versus explanation, skepticismversus trust, etc. Even if the subject matter of phenomenology is complicated,it does not automatically mean that it is difficult for the teacher in relatingthe material in a traditional lecture to practical examples in the lifeworld.Methodologically speaking, the first step is meant as a background going intothe empathy training in the second step, much like the figure-ground relation,to use an analogy from Gestalt psychology. The meaning of the content pro-vided in the first step will become explicit and more embodied for the studentin Step 2 and Step 3. The first step is usually experienced as abstract, whereasthe succeeding steps bring the material closer to the individual student's ownreflections and lifeworld perspective.

In addition, the first step also includes providing the student with the firsttask to be finished before the second step can begin. The first task is stmc-


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tured in a particular way so that focus should emphasize the phenomenol-ogy of empathy rather than disciplinary content. The essential aspect of thefirst task is to confront the student's own understanding of empathy with thephenomenological approach. Hence, the first task is for the student to (usingtheir own interpretation of empathy), empathize with another person's (usu-ally another student's) everyday type of problem for about ten minutes. Notethat the problem should be trivial to such an extent so that focus will be onthe process of empathy instead of the meaning and nature of the problem. Forexample, the person that the student is conversing with might talk about beingstressed while driving to school or annoyed that the subway is too crowded,etc. 1 have noticed that it becomes essential for the training to remove focusfrom the disciplinary perspectives such as nursing, psychology, social work,etc., in order for the student to stay better focused on the lived experience ofthe other, instead of specific professionally related issues.

The practical aspects of this first task is designed in very much the sameway as in Carl Rogers' (1989) traditional method of training psychotherapists;that is, the student will record a conversation and then transcribe it verbatim,as well as making copies of the transcriptions to the facilitator and the othergroup members. The groups in which empathy training takes place shouldnot exceed 6-7 students, in order for students to feel safe to explore their ownpersonal experience. The recording could be video or audio, however, it isadvised to start with audio, because it can be overwhelming with the visualaspect at the beginning of the training. If steps 1 to 3 are repeated, video is anexcellent way of addressing the distinction behavior versus meaning expres-sion (see for example, Zahavi, 2007) as well as the visual embodiment involvedin doing empathy.

Step 2 consists of empathy training in small groups in which the studentsbring their recordings to the sessions along with the transcription. When thestudents enter the classroom, they have already made a reflection on theirencounter with the other in terms of empathy. In other words, by transcrib-ing the recorded session, there is little room for avoiding the confrontationbetween one's own understanding of empathy and the phenomenologicalapproach that one has grasped intellectually during Step 1. Even though someambitious students try hard to follow their new intellectual understandingfrom the lecture, they are usually unable to transcend their previous embodiedunderstanding of empathy while completing the task.

The first session is characterized by, for instance, students trying to defendtheir work, or students willingly admitting their previous lack of listening tosomebody, or students not showing up, or students just trying to get throughthe session. In other words, this first session is a challenge for the facilitator


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and it is essential to overemphasize that there are no rights or wrongs in regardto this task (unless there are offensive expressions involved). The developmentthat the student has to get through is to be confronted with the phenomeno-logical understanding of empathy. This is sometimes experienced as difficult,but mostly the first session is seen as enlightening. Seeing the phenomenologi-cal perspective in the recordings is a way of understanding that Step l was notthat abstract after all.

Let us consider an example from the first training session. Because of thepaper format, the examples are limited to the text. Video or real life demon-stration would obviously be more superior catching the tone of voice, andother embodied aspects of the expressions. Nevertheless, I have created anexample that we can follow throughout. The nature of the example could beinterpreted as coming across as psychological; however, it could easily fit into,for example, palliative care or social work. Also, note that I am not using aneveryday type of problem in this example as would be more appropriate forthe training sessions.

Client/Patient: I feel nothing. There is just no point in getting up in themorning.Professional: How long have you felt this way?

Even though this is an appropriate question to ask, the professional's inten-tional act is not aimed at understanding the meanings as expressed by theother. Instead, it is an inquiry into the condition as such, perhaps trying tofind the onset or the cause of the condition. Even though such an inquiry isclearly motivated in order to help the other person, this is not the same asbeing empathie. Clearly students are here faced with the difference betweentheir own interpretations of empathy as opposed to the phenomenological.The most common ways to interpret empathy seems to be to explain the cli-ent/patient condition and then try to solve their problem based upon thisexplanation.

The first session ends with instructions for the second task in prepara-tion for the second session. The second task is similar to the first; however,the actual recording time can be reduced from ten minutes to five and thestudent now has to try the phenomenological approach to empathy. This isdifficult and many students can experience the task as impossible, especiallythose students who interpreted their performance on the first task as a failure.In addition, the facilitator should also point out that this is training and thatthere is no judgment in terms of a grade involved in relation to the student's


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performance (tbe grade follows tbe completion of step 3). Besides, tbe facfli-tator also needs to emphasize the training aspect of the task, that is, beingempathie for ten or five minutes is not typical in real life situations. A helpfulmetaphor that has been used for tbe last several years is to say tbat footballplayers do certain repetitions during practice, but tbey obviously do not dosucb repetitions wbile playing tbe actual game.

Tbe leadersbip of tbe facilitator as a role model in bow to adopt tbe pbe-nomenological attitude is essential in tbe first and second training sessions.Tbe facilitator needs to provide specific examples of bow to verbalize one'sunderstanding of tbe otber, which is a specific goal of the second step of thetraining. Verbalizing one's empatby, as I call it, is a skill tbat is developedtbrougb tbe training and necessary if one views tbe relation to tbe otber asreciprocal as well as values tbe otber's participation of tbeir understanding oftbemselves. In contrast to an explanation, in wbicb tbe participation of tbeotber is limited or at times characterized by determinism, an understanding oftbe otber could be seen as opening up for participation. Because of tbe possi-bility of empatby opening up for intersubjectivity, by verbalizing empatby onecan also open up for a sense of participation. Verbalizing empatby is descrip-tive pbenomenology in terms of working from witbin tbe pbenomenologicalattitude and tbus staying witb wbat is given to tbe consciousness of tbe persontrying to understand tbe other. It is essential here not to just interpret this asrepeating what the other person says, but instead tbe meaning of verbalizingempatby sbould "sbow" the other tbe intentional aspect of understanding atwork, tbat is, wbat one is present to. Focus should not be on language aspects,sucb as training to summarize or parapbrasing wbat tbe patient or client issaying. Hence, tbe primary focus is on understanding tbe otber's lived experi-ence. Verbalizing empatby is to explicate tbe meaning expression of tbe otberand tbus to invite tbe participation of tbe otber to direct bis or ber intentional-ity to my understanding, resulting in a reciprocal empatby and clearly pavingtbe way for intersubjectivity. Now, verbalizing empatby can at times result in asummary or a parapbrase wbat tbe otber person is saying, bowever, it is essen-tial to understand the difference in terms of the intentional act. Let us get backto our previous example and see bow verbalizing empatby migbt look in tbetraining session.

Client/Patient: I feel nothing. There is Just no point in getting up in the

morning.Professional: How long have you felt this way?


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Facilitator: Let us pause the recording. Now, "How long have you felt thisway?" is a good professional question, however, itisnotan attempt at under-standing the other persons experience. The client/patient says that he/shefeels nothing and that there is just no point in getting up in the morning.What type of intentionality of the other are we present to here? The personexperience emptiness and that there is no purpose in life. How can we ver-balize our presence as professionals? In otherwords, howwouldwego aboutverbalizing our empathy? Perhaps we could say: "You feet empty and youseem to have lost a sense of purpose in life."

Hence, in providing facilitation and example in how to be present to the otherperson's experience as expressed (in this case verbally) and also how to verbal-ize empathy, the student will have a better chance at developing the ability tostay focused on the other.

The second session is usually one in which the students defend themselveseven more so than in the first session, because now they were supposed totry to do empathy from a phenomenological perspective. In other words, theywere trying to bracket their own existential assumptions about the phenom-enon that the other person was talking about and they were trying to directtheir intentionality towards the other's experience. However, understandingall this theoretically, and trying to do it are two very different things. In fact, thestudents are so caught up in how they are supposed to act that they lose theirpresence in regard to the other's meaning expression. This becomes a crucialand valuable lesson in preparation for the third and final session. The secondsession is characterized by trying to do empathy from a phenomenological per-spective as a technique, which is an error that the students will overcome inthe following session(s). In other words, too much focus on oneself leads toan intentional relation to oneself. As stated earlier, empathy should be self inrelation toward the other. The second session thus also helps the students tosee clearly that the other theoretical perspectives on empathy are not aboutthe relation to the other and that "communication techniques" are limited interms of understanding the other. Here it becomes essential for the facilita-tor to encourage the students for the upcoming third session to try to primar-ily have their focus on the other and not so much on their own performance.In addition, the preparatory task for the third session is the same as the taskfor the second.

Verbalizing empathy also needs to be encouraged in order for the otherto be able to correct your understanding, which tells you that your presencetowards the other's meaning expression is "misaligned" and which will engage


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your eidetic variations to get a better aim. Let us take a look at a situation inwhich the client/patient feels understood.

Client/Patient: I feel nothing. There is just no point in getting up in themorning.Professional: You have a difficult time finding a sense of purpose inyour life.Client/Patient: Yeah, you know it is not worth going on afler my wife diedand I have such a hard time doing simple things like making some dinner

for myself and the kids. When she was sick I was strong and now it is just asif I bst my strength. Now I want it back, but I can't seem to find it.

However, a situation might also occur in which the understanding is "mis-aligned." What happens is interesting, because the attempt to empathize cre-ates a sense of trust to correct the professional, which is an insight alreadyfamiliar to most psychotherapists. And I would say that this is one of the mostimportant aspects of the training, because the client/patient is then show-ing that they have understood the professional's attempt to deliberatively doempathy. Let us see what this might look like:

Client/Patient: I feel nothing. There is just no point in getting up in the

morning.Professional: You have a difficult time finding a sense of purpose inyour life.Client/Patient: No, it is not really that I lack of purpose in my life, but it ismore the everyday tasks that become so difficult to handle. It is almost as ifI have lost a basic sense of strength.

If one is corrected, it signals that the deliberate attempt to understand theother has been "seen" by the other, and a reciprocal empathie relation has beenmade possible. In other words, the focus here is on empathy and not explana-tion of a condition, disease, behavior, or a social problem. What if the patientor client in some respect does not respond to verbal communication? This isnot a problem when one is following the phenomenological approach, becauseempathy is not limited to the narrative aspects of intersubjectivity. As a matterof fact, all that is required is a person having an experience of something andthat some form of expression ofthat experience is available in the world.

By the time of the third session, most students are capable of entering thephenomenological attitude (to some reasonable extent) and thus are able tobe involved in deliberate professional empathy (from a phenomenological per-spective). Now, the students' performance is far from perfect, and it is advised


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to have five sessions scheduled and to tell students that they have to do a mini-mum of three. This enables the students who want more practice to attend allfive. Such teaching strategies also creates a dynamic and overlapping of theindividual student sessions, making the development ofthe learning involvedclear for the students. For example, a student might miss the second sessionand come in with their second recording for the third session, showing every-body in the group (who did not miss the second session) the different develop-mental stages in learning how to adopt the phenomenological attitude.

Obviously, the integration of practical exercises and theory is a valuable partof this training, especially in terms of Step 2 (and Step 3). The fact that eachsession starts out with recorded material from the lifeworld, is a way of shiftingthe figure-ground relationship, in which the theoretical material has hecomepart of the horizon. Now it is time to integrate theory and practice with thestudent's own development. This is Step 3, and here 1 have the students write apaper (and make an oral presentation) about their own development throughthe training by relating it to the phenomenological literature. A persistentproblem for the last ten years has heen to find literature on phenomenologythat can be understood by students traditionally not well versed in philosophy.


It has been my attempt to provide an overview of a phenomenologically basedempathy training that aims at providing the students with the skill of empathythrough by entering the phenomenological attitude. The training has devel-oped over the course of the last ten years and has shown itself to be useful inmany disciplines in which work with humans is the main focus. The theoreti-cal justification for the empathy training is grounded in the phenomenologicalphilosophical understanding of empathy, whereas the theoretical justificationofthe application of a deliberate professional empathy in the context of empa-thy training is based on adopting a phenomenological attitude.


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