Date of Award

Spring 2-2007

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Psychology (PsyD)


Graduate Department of Clinical Psychology

First Advisor

Kathleen Gathercoal, PhD

Second Advisor

Clark D. Campbell, PhD

Third Advisor

Mary Peterson, PhD


Empathy has been recognized by both the mental health and medical fields as a central component of relationships between patients and treatment providers. Empathy of care providers has important implications for treatment outcomes of both medical and psychological conditions. Since it is becoming more common for mental health issues to be addressed primarily by primary care physicians, it is important to consider how physicians and psychologists compare on levels of empathy. The present study was an investigation of how medical residents and psychology interns compare on both cognitive and affective components of empathy. The Interpersonal Reactivity Index, designed to measure empathy using a multidimensional approach, was administered to psychology and medical students. The hypothesis, that psychology interns would have higher levels of empathy, compared to medical residents, was generally supported. Both psychology and medical students rated empathy as important for patient compliance, patient satisfaction, and for their overall effectiveness as care providers. Similar themes emerged in psychology and medical students' definitions of empathy, but there were also interesting distinctions. Relationship of the findings to current literature, recommendations for future research, and implications are discussed.