Examining the Influence of Empathy and Autonomous Motivation Within Counselor Work Setting

Whitney Delphos, Pace University


Empathy is regarded as an essential quality for counselors. Although there are findings that validate its importance and predictive value in positive counseling outcomes, there remain areas of the experience that have yet to be explored. Research reveals that when professionals work in environments that do not provide satisfaction of their basic needs for autonomy, the affective and cognitive components of their empathy are negatively impacted. However, there is little understanding of whether a practitioner’s motivation in a particular environment might further explain this relationship between empathy and work setting. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to investigate how autonomous motivation could contribute to the explanation of the relationship between practicing counselors’ work settings and their levels of empathy. As hypothesized, a positive relationship was found between autonomous motivation and cognitive empathy, but contrary to prediction, no significant relationship was found for affective empathy. Moreover, contrary to prediction, no differences were found for either empathy or motivation when comparing private practice and agency settings. Further analyses exploring job satisfaction found it to be strongly correlated with autonomous motivation, as well as significantly higher in clinicians working in private practice. Although work setting differences were not found for the primary constructs, the following study provides evidence that the varying effects for the different components of empathy extend to the counseling realm, as well as support previous research identifying the significance of autonomous motivation to counselor well-being. These findings have implications for future research exploring the effects of empathy in counselors, as well as for counselor education and training.

Subject Area

Counseling Psychology|Psychology|Mental health

Recommended Citation

Delphos, Whitney, "Examining the Influence of Empathy and Autonomous Motivation Within Counselor Work Setting" (2023). ETD Collection for Pace University. AAI30573895.


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