Past research shows that mindfulness-based training improves empathy in healthcare professionals and the general population. However, the empirical evidence for applying this assumption to counselors and psychotherapists is not well established. This review sought to examine the relationship between mindfulness and empathy, and the effects of mindfulness-based training on empathy among counselors and psychotherapists.
Published studies and dissertations indexed by PsycINFO, Scopus, Web of Science Core Collection, and Medline were systematically reviewed. We performed random-effects meta-analyses of both cross-sectional evidence and pre-post results of mindfulness-based training.
A total of 22 studies met criteria. Greater self-reported levels of mindfulness were associated with less empathic personal distress, r = − .39, 95% CI [−.57, −.18], and greater perspective taking, r = .27, 95% CI [.09, .44]. An analysis of pre-post data indicated that mindfulness-based training did not have a significant effect on empathy.
There is a positive association between mindfulness and some aspects of empathy. However, mindfulness-based training did not significantly alter levels of empathy. Other methods of increasing empathy in counselors and psychotherapists should be explored. Furthermore, caution should be exercised when generalizing results from studies involving other healthcare professionals and the general population to counselors and psychotherapists.