“We Need to Talk About Empathy”: Dutch Humanist Chaplains’ Perspectives on Empathy’s Functions, Downsides, and Limitations in Chaplaincy Care

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This paper investigates the functions, downsides, and limitations of empathy in chaplaincy care. Data were collected from 20
humanist chaplains working in health care, prison, and military settings using semi-structured interviews. According to the
participants, empathy is at the heart of their profession but has disadvantages as well. The analysis yields seven major functions
of empathy with corresponding downsides and limitations: (1) to connect, (2) to understand, (3) to guide, (4) to acknowledge,
(5) to motivate, (6) to inspire, and (7) to humanize.We argue for a need to “talk about empathy” since despite its importance
and challenges, there is little professional and academic discussion about empathy in chaplaincy care.We hope that the findings
of this study can function as starting points for the discussion and thus contribute to the ongoing professionalization of chaplaincy
care. To that end, we propose three topics for further reflection and conversation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)15-28
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Pastoral Care and Counseling
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 24 Jan 2022


  • Empathy
  • chaplaincy
  • spiritual care
  • humanism
  • professionalization
  • qualitative research

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