A U.P. student wrote about selecting this picture because it was reminiscent of “how some people when talking about grieving will want to stop and not go onward to say more.” The figure in the photo symbolizes moving on toward light. (Student photo from Photovoice project/Courtesy University of Portland)
A U.P. student wrote about selecting this picture because it was reminiscent of “how some people when talking about grieving will want to stop and not go onward to say more.” The figure in the photo symbolizes moving on toward light. (Student photo from Photovoice project/Courtesy University of Portland)
Recent studies indicate a significant decline among college students in empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. That’s troubling since the ability to be empathetic is critical in fields such as health care and social work, where graduates will work with clients who are dealing with suffering and loss.

Three University of Portland faculty members are training students to be appropriately empathetic when encounting profound pain and suffering.

Anissa Rogers, professor of social work; Barbara Braband, associate professor of nursing; and Rebecca Gaudino, lecturer in theology, were recently recognized with a national award for their program, which teaches empathy in conjunction with self-reflection.

“We need opportunities to explore our own and others’ deep emotions to truly experience our connectedness and to respond in effective, authentic ways,” said Rogers.

Braband initially developed an interview assignment in response to her own suffering with cancer.

The interview helps students engage at a deeper level with someone they know personally in a non-clinical setting, she said. Students complete self-reflection questions following each interview session, exploring their own pain and suffering and the ways in which their own experiences impact how they engage with clients.

The three professors recently began using video or photo images to capture aspects of someone’s personal experiences.

Students took photos to show their thoughts and feelings related to the interviews. They continued the photography with subsequent interviews.

“In meeting their own woundedness, they also learn to accompany others who are wounded,” said Gaudino. “This speaks to the deeply spiritual roots of our project.”

The classes have drawn students from many disciplines, including those pursuing careers in gerontology, mental health, theology, grief counseling, hospice care and trauma recovery.