Contributions of Neuroscience to a New Empathy Epistemology: Implications for Developmental Training

Diane S. VanCleave


The difficulty in comprehending the epistemology of empathy lies in shifting paradigms which have resulted in empathy being viewed as vague and elusive. Such elusive understanding of empathy has confused research, practice, and advancement of therapeutic principles. Empathy is the core of all social and intellectual transformation. Humankind is biologically programmed to use empathy for survival, health, and well-being. Pursuing and understanding empathy frees human capacity for wisdom. Studying the epistemology of empathy is operationally and scientifically relevant in the synthesis of an empathic practice theory. Clear epistemic definition and neuroscience provide the foundation for an expanding discovery of rational frameworks for a clinician’s empathic training and teaching. A clinician’s empathic ability requires competency in reflective, global, affective, cognitive, and interpersonal perspective-taking. Once understood, renewed curriculum for teaching and training are recommended that would produce more finite outcomes. Epistemic review culminates in empathy skills training over the course of curricula at the undergraduate (BSW) and graduate (MSW) levels.


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