Nurturing and Teaching Empathy in Social Work – Kristen Zaleski and Edwin Rutsch

Kristen Zaleski is professor of Social Work at the University of Southern California (USC) and also supervises new psychotherapists in the field.  She is a licensed clinical social worker providing individual and group psychotherapy for trauma, sexual assault and bereavement in Los Angeles. Her work experience includes in-patient psychiatry, in-patient medical, in-patient and out-patient oncology, and out-patient counseling for rape trauma victims.


“Being empathetic is a crucial skill set for social workers because… we aren’t working with people who have had good lives.”


“Empathy is a building block of self-identity.”

“Say the word “empathy” around social workers and most will recognize it as a professional “must-have,” even if they can’t tell you exactly what it means. Scholars also disagree about the definition of empathy and what it looks like in social work practice.” 

According to Zaleski, she and her colleagues recruited 306 graduate social work students to complete the Questionnaire of Cognitive and Affective Empathy.”

 Can Social Work Students Learn Empathy?