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Empathy Training Activities

Updated February 21, 2017

Empathising, or feeling what someone else is feeling, is a matter of using your imagination or past to inhabit another person's experience. Empathy is not something you either have or you don't; being placed in circumstances where you are required to produce some evidence of empathy can cultivate your capacity for it. Mental health professionals, as well as individuals who regularly deal with people, use empathy training as a way of building interpersonal skills.

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Headband Exercise

Label headbands with descriptions of a certain kind of person (conformist, rebel, creative) or a directive (respect me, disrespect me, want something from me) and attach them to members of your team. Next, let your team have conversations with each other, responding to the labels on each person's head. After the exercise, try discussing what kind of feelings were brought up by being treated a certain way. If there is a particular situation that sparked the exercise, you can tailor your labels to address the problem.

Fear in a Hat

Begin by discussing how normal it is for fears to be brought up in a group situation. Next, ask everyone to write the sentence "Being in this group brings up my fear of___," and complete it. Now put the slips of paper into a hat and have each person pull one out and read it. Ask them to explain why they think that person might feel that particular fear in this group. If they don't have much to say, the group can ask questions to get them started.

Role Playing

People who inflict harm on others are often not around to witness the negative consequences of their actions. It is helpful to engage in role playing in which the perpetrator plays the role of the victim, and someone else in the group plays the role of the perpetrator. This gives the offender a chance to experience the situation and internalise feelings, in real time, that may continue after the exercise is complete. Role playing helps offenders get past the mistaken idea that their actions have little or no effect on people.

Feeling Theater

When people go through a painful or difficult situation, the first thing that changes is their body language. Learning how to recognise and adjust your behaviour based on these changes is big step in improving your understanding of someone else's experience. "Feeling Theater" involves listing as many emotions as you can on a sheet of paper, and taking turns acting out these feelings physically and with facial expressions. After the others have guessed which feeling is being acted out, discuss a real life situation where you saw or expressed this emotion.

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About the Author

Terry Hollis began writing professionally in 1999. His work has appeared in "Dance Insider Magazine," on BLARE.com and for short story readings at Emory University in Atlanta, where he now lives. He received his Bachelor of Arts in international studies from Morehouse College.

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