Exploring psychotherapist empathic attunement from a psychoneurobiological perspective: Is empathy enhanced by yoga and meditation?

by Bergemann, Eric, Ph.D., PACIFICA GRADUATE INSTITUTE, 2009, 107 pages; 3361018


Empathic attunement is one of the key components for effecting change in clients through clinical work in the psychotherapeutic setting. Recent research across various disciplines including neuroscience, developmental psychology, and neuropsychoanalysis has suggested the importance of redefining clinical efficacy in terms of empathic attunement that is bodily-based, that is, a connection between the unconscious bodily-based systems of the psychotherapist and client that includes the brain, mind, and body. In light of this work, this investigation hypothesized that bodily-based practices which utilize and emphasize bodily awareness, such as yoga and meditation, would increase the level of empathic attunement in psychotherapists. In this quasi-experimental study, 121 psychotherapists were administered the Balanced Emotional Empathy Scale (BEES) and a questionnaire designed to measure the level of bodily-based practices in their lives. Results showed that psychotherapists who engaged in yoga, meditation, or other bodily-based practices currently, but not in the past, had higher empathy scores than those psychotherapists who did not engage in such practices. Findings suggest that engaging in a bodily-based practice may contribute to the development of empathy, and that maintaining a current practice may play a role in retaining higher levels of empathy. Results showed no significant correlation between length of practice time and empathy scores.

Additionally, previously feeling understood as a client in psychotherapy was found to be a significant predictor of empathy scores in psychotherapists. Findings suggest the importance of experiencing a relationship with an empathic other in developing one's own level of empathy. This investigation was unique in its attempt to study the relationship between yoga and empathy, as no previous research was found linking yoga practice to the cultivation of empathy. Future research in this area is suggested. Finally, the importance of educating and training psychotherapists in bodily-based practices due to the resulting potential for the development of empathy is also discussed.

AdviserAaron Kipnis
Source TypeDissertation
SubjectsDevelopmental psychology; Clinical psychology
Publication Number3361018

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