The Empathy Effect

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The Empathy Effect – Countering Bias for Better Health  – December 17, 2017 – Empathy in the clinical setting might look like acknowledging a person’s feelings and asking open-ended questions. For example, if a person says “I am really overwhelmed right now” we can respond by saying something like “You are overwhelmed, I’m impressed that you handle so much despite all that is going on, what do you think will help?” In this way, we validate, regulate emotions, and offer the space for a person to share their experiences.

Director of Behavioral Health Integration, Dr. Saleena Gupte, and Training Manager, Jana Kantor spent a week in November at a “train the trainer” workshop on the Empathy Effect (EE). The goal of the Empathy Effect workshop is to enable health center staff in patient interactions that offer compassion and respect. Alameda Health Consortium was one of seven health agencies statewide chosen by Blue Shield California Foundation to develop faculty to deliver this training.

Research shows that how a person’s health care team treats them influences their health outcomes and the experience of care delivery. The EE workshop guides team members as they examine their own beliefs and biases that may get in the way of compassionate care for all patients.  The EE workshop is based on three foundational premises:

  1. Empathy is healing and judgment is harmful;
  2. Vulnerable populations experience greater harm by judgment and lack of empathy; and
  3. We all have judgments, and we can learn to mitigate them.

The EE content aims to boost personal self-awareness and communication skills for clinicians and clinic staff that can heighten patients’ sense of empathy and connectivity. Applying the skills with both patients and staff can also improve employees’ own experience of their work and prevent burnout.

“For me it was very insightful to observe how the trainers modeled the empathy tools in their interactions with us,” said Kantor. “They shared what they call ‘micro skills’ that help you tweak what you do to incorporate empathy. This could be reflective listening or reframing. The research shows that investing in the tools pays off. While you may spend more time initially building that relationship, over time, you can jump to the heart of the matter at your next visit.”

The curriculum is broadly applicable to all patient and clinic staff interactions and focuses on care for those who suffer from conditions subject to stigma and substandard care, such as mental health and addictive disorders, chronic pain, trauma history, domestic violence and homelessness.

Kantor and Dr. Gupte will now deliver the training content among health center sites and peer groups, with the intention of supporting person-centered and trauma sensitive care. “Our hope is to share reflective, informative, and applicable training on empathic communication so we can continue to provide the best care to the people we serve,” said Kantor.


For more information or interest in holding the Empathy Effect workshop, please contact Dr. Gupte at