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Promoting empathy in social care for older people

Thomas Strandberg (Lecturer at the School of Health and Medical Sciences, Örebro University, Örebro, Sweden)
Jakob Eklund (Associate Professor at the School of Sustainable Development of Society and Technology, Mälardalen University, Eskiltuna, Sweden)
Jill Manthorpe (Professor at the Social Care Workforce Research Unit, King's College London, London, UK)

Working with Older People

ISSN: 1366-3666

Article publication date: 1 March 2012



The purpose of this paper is to identify connections between empathy and social care and to describe aspects of empathy in social care work, by bringing together research from different fields.


Five doctoral theses which discussed empathy among care workers of older people in Sweden were analysed as a group. The theses had been published over the period 1996 to 2007. Methodologically, the examination underpinned an interpretive content analysis.


The meta‐analysis revealed conflicting feelings among care workers. Most experienced frustration when they were not able to express empathy in their working practices. Empathy was typically hindered by lack of time, care workers' own needs, and inflexible home care systems. However, a key element of the job‐satisfaction reported by care workers appeared to be its empathic nature. Most care workers perceive encounters with older people as opportunities to respond empathically rather than indifferently. The implications of these findings are discussed.


The study is an overview that attempts to build a bridge across the two concepts, social care and empathy. The main strength of this analysis is its originality of approach undertaking a specific literature review and reflecting on a subject that has not previously been explored in the Swedish context.



Strandberg, T., Eklund, J. and Manthorpe, J. (2012), "Promoting empathy in social care for older people", Working with Older People, Vol. 16 No. 3, pp. 101-110.



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