For the past year, the Crestwood Bakersfield Campus has been piloting an Empathy Enhancement training for our staff as a way to provide more compassionate care, improve customer service, and combat burn out. Last year, after conducting several new employee orientation trainings, we began to discover there was a topic missing in our curriculum and that was empathy. Empathy is defined by Psychology Today as the experience of understanding another person’s thoughts, feelings, and condition from his or her point of view, rather than from one’s own. Empathy facilitates prosocial or helping behaviors that come from within, rather than being forced, so that people behave in a more compassionate manner. 

We began to research the idea of how to improve our ability to empathize and support our staff, and we discovered so much. According to Frontiers in Public Health Journal, “Greater empathy in healthcare professionals improves client outcomes and satisfaction.” In the early 1990s, Theresa Wiseman, RN, began developing empathy training for hospital staff and discovered there are four qualities to empathy: perspective taking; staying out of judgment; recognizing emotions; and communicating empathy. Studies have shown people served are more likely to adhere to treatment plans when their providers are empathetic.  Also, when staff are more empathetic there is a reduction in recidivism  

At Crestwood Bakersfield, our approach is to utilize self-reflection and skill building to improve and increase these individual empathy qualities amongst our staff. In the four-hour Empathy Enhancement training our staff receive in orientation, we practice specific skills and exercises that have been shown to improve these individual qualities.  We have measured our training success by adapting a widely-used empathy measurement tool, the Toronto Empathy Questionnaire (TEQ), to measure our staff empathy at Day 1, Day 30, and Day 90. To date, we have had more than 80 staff participate in the Empathy Enhancement training, in addition to another 60 hours of training that includes Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), Trauma-Informed Approaches, and Cultural Diversity. We have seen an increase in TEQ scores by 1-2 points 30 days after receiving the initial training (average score of 49.8 to an increase average score of 51) and another 2 points after 90 days! In addition to numerical statistics, we have also heard comments from staff regarding their own personal insights into their ability to empathize with positive self-reflection, changes in habits and better communication when interacting with our clients. Staff have said that they are building stronger relationships with those that we are serving simply by making better eye contact, respecting a differing perspective, and using reflective statements. Other staff have commented that it has also strengthened their personal relationships outside of the workplace.

Rhonda Van Cleve, the Bakersfield Campus Administrator, and I have been very fortunate to be able attend and present at several CASRA conferences on what we have discovered since beginning our empathy pilot program.  It’s been an honor to teach empathy skills and share with other organizations how helpful this training has been for our staff and clients. 

At Crestwood Bakersfield, we look forward to continuing our Empathy Enhancement training at our campus and are hopeful that these skills will continue to spread beyond our Crestwood campuses and into local communities throughout California.

Contributed by: Sarah Wood, Director of Staff Development, Crestwood Bakersfield