Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Model of Effects of Adult Attachment on Emotional Empathy of Counseling Students

Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Model of Effects of Adult Attachment on Emotional Empathy of Counseling Students

Article excerpt

Counselor educators and counseling researchers have historically devoted a great deal of attention to empathy in counseling (Bowman & Reeves, 1987; Duan & Hill, 1996; Gladstein, 1977). From most counseling theoretical perspectives, empathy is seen as a fundamental part of the counseling process (Carlozzi, Bull, Eells, & Hurlburt, 1995; Hartley, 1995; Ivey, Ivey, & Simek-Morgan, 1993). However, research on empathy has decreased over the last several years. Duan and Hill argued for a renewal of research on empathy. They illuminated the theoretical salience of empathy and the lack of empirical evidence. In particular, Duan and Hill called for increased study of (a) the cognitive and emotional dimensions of empathy, (b) variables that influence empathy, (c) the experience and communication of empathy by counselors, (d) the interaction of counselor and client emotions, and (e) empathy in the context of cultural diversity. The present study focused on the first two of these suggestions.

The purpose of the present study was to investigate the influences of adult attachment on emotional empathy in master's-level counseling students. Through structural equation modeling, a measurement and structural model of the effects of attachment on empathy was developed. Gender was an exogenous variable in the structural model. Because attachment theory focuses firmly on emotional processes (Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters, & Wall, 1978), the present study focused on the emotional dimension of empathy. The research question was the following: How well does the adult attachment-emotional empathy model fit the data for master's-level counseling students?

* Literature Review


Duan and Hill (1996), in a review of literature, described various conceptualizations of the empathy construct. Researchers have conceptualized and defined empathy in terms of cognitive and affective mechanisms, resulting in three common conceptualizations: (a) as a cognitive or intellectual process, (b) as an affective or emotional process, and (c) as a process involving both cognitive and affective phenomena. Both Duan and Hill and Gladstein (1977) described cognitive empathy as the ability to intellectually assume the perspective of another person. The authors characterized emotional empathy as an emotional response to another person's emotion (feeling another person's feeling). According to Gladstein (1977), Rogers's (1957, 1975) conceptualization of empathy involves both intellectual and emotional components. Duan and Hill recognized the emotional aspects of Rogers's conceptualization but characterized it more in terms of intellectual empathy. Empathy has also been conceptualized and studied as (a) a personality trait (e.g., Davis, 1983; Mehrabian & Epstein, 1972), (b) a state (e.g., Baston, Fultz, & Schoenrade, 1987), and (c) an experiential process (Rogers, 1975). Rogers initially described empathy as a cognitive-affective state (Rogers, 1957), then later as a cognitive-affective process (Rogers, 1975).

There have been many studies of emotional empathy, but the number of recent studies using samples of counseling students is relatively small. However, there is evidence that emotional empathy is related to counseling skill and other variables indicative of effective counseling. Ridgway and Sharpley (1990) examined the relationships of several measures to three outcome variables: counseling skill, counselor behavior, and client satisfaction. Participants were counseling students who were beginning their counseling-skills training. The independent variables included measures of intellectual (cognitive) empathy, emotional empathy, and communicative (nonverbal) empathy. Emotional empathy was the only empathy variable that was significantly related to the outcome variables. In addition, the relationships of emotional empathy to other dimensions of empathy were very weak. From a review of literature on empathy, Gladstein (1983) concluded that emotional empathy is most important in the initial stages of counseling and important in helping clients increase their self-awareness. …

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