rehabilitation; primary health care; occupational health; mental health; child development; occupational therapy; education; vocational rehabilitation; community-based therapy
Empathy and associated influencing factors in occupational therapy students: A cross-sectional study

Supplementary Files



Introduction: Empathy, often described as the comprehension of another

person’s state of mind, enables one to appreciate social environments and

anticipate others’ behaviour. In occupational therapy, the therapeutic use of

self, which is grounded in empathy, is commonly considered essential, as it

enables therapists to manage a therapeutic relationship with clients. However,

high caseloads, stressors and pressure to perform often impact empathy

levels. This study aimed to determine the empathy levels of undergraduate

occupational therapy students, as well as factors affecting empathy levels.

Method: A quantitative approach was used, with an observational, cross-sectional

study methodology, employing an electronic survey consisting of the Interpersonal

Reactivity Index (IRI) and a questionnaire developed by the researchers.

Results: In total, 112 (response rate 70.4%) students participated in the study.

Overall, the students had a satisfactory level of empathy. Of concern, however,

was the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the lack of clinical fieldwork

experience, which possibly contributed to the lower empathy levels observed

among second-and third-year students.

Conclusion: From the findings, it is suggested that more attention should be

given to empathy, as it plays an integral role in practice with clients, as well as

in the training of occupational therapy students.


The findings suggest the opportunity for interventions and support systems

that can help students manage high caseloads, stressors, and performance

pressures, while also fostering and maintaining empathy. Implementing

strategies such as stress management programs, mindfulness training, and

self-care initiatives can help mitigate the negative impact on empathy levels

and promote the development of empathetic skills in future occupational


The research study’s results have implications for the professional practice

of occupational therapy. It emphasises the need for ongoing education and

training programs that focus on empathy development and maintenance

throughout a therapist’s career.

By providing therapists with the tools, resources, and support to sustain

their empathy levels in challenging work environments, the study suggests

that the quality of care provided to clients can be enhanced, leading to better

therapeutic outcomes and overall client satisfaction.

Organisational changes within healthcare settings may be necessary to

address workload issues and create a supportive environment that nurtures

empathy among occupational therapy professionals.

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Copyright (c) 2023 South African Journal of Occupational Therapy


Download data is not yet available.