The association between empathy and the nurse‐patient therapeutic relationship in mental health units: a cross‐sectional study [2020]

Empathy and its dimensions (perspective taking, empathic concern, personal distress and fantasy) are essential for establishing the nurse‐patient therapeutic relationship. It is important to know how this influences the construction and development of the therapeutic alliance during the different phases of the therapeutic relationship.

To examine whether the dimensions of empathy influence the nurse‐patient therapeutic relationship within mental health units.

A cross‐sectional design was used to collect data to measure the therapeutic alliance and the different dimensions of empathy via an online form completed by nurses working at 18 mental health units. Linear regressions were used in the analysis.

A total of 198 participants completed the questionnaires. Nurses established a greater therapeutic alliance with patients when they were able to adopt their patient’s perspective and experience concern.

Nurses’ perspective taking is an influential factor impacting the nurse‐patient bond in the orientation phase, whereas experiencing greater concern, and decreased emotional distress were associated with improved therapeutic alliance in the working phase.

Implications for practice
These findings may help gain awareness among nurses of the importance of empathy in the nurse‐patient relationships, as well as inform educational programs, by including training in empathic strategies and emotional management.

Antonio R. Moreno‐Poyato, Óscar Rodríguez‐Nogueira, MiRTCIME.CAT working group
Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing, 13 July 2020