The development and initial validation of the Empathy Scale for Social Workers: the ESSW
King, Stephen Hall
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The concept of empathy is an organizing principle and valuable practice skill essential to the profession of social work. Despite this emphasis, little empirical study of this concept has been undertaken by social work researchers. The purpose of this study was to develop and initially validate the Empathy Scale for Social Workers (ESSW). The ESSW is a 42 item self-report questionnaire designed to assess empathy in social work practitioners. A sample of N=271 social workers who had attained the degree of M.S.W. completed an electronic survey containing the ESSW and three related measures. Data were analyzed usisng a quantitative-descriptive design, and utilized a variety of empirical testing procedures to evaluate the scale's initial validity including factor analysis. Findings revealed promising psychometric properties of the ESSW, and the use of exploratory factor analysis (EFA) demonstrated content, construct and factorial validity. These results were encouraging and they lay the initial ground work for the continued development of the ESSW. This scale addresses the gap in knowledge regarding the empirical evaluation of empathy for social workers. The results have implications for social work education, practice, research and theory development. It may be used to assess student training needs and as a screening tool for educators, supervisors and practitioners. T he ESSW draws theoretical constructs from a variety of fields in its evaluation of the nature of empathy in helping behaviors and could benefit other direct practice helping professionals. The ESSW provides insight and depth to the processes of social work theorydevelopment and research.