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Aim: Empathy is a core element in the psychologist–patient relationship. The aim of this study was to investigate whether clinical psychology program students can gain empathy skills and improve attitudes by joining internship training year and practice contact with clients.
We expected that contacting with patients during internship training year program would primarily purposefully develop the affective and cognitive component of empathy and in consequence, improve attitudes necessary for the performance of the challenging psychologist profession.
Internship training year of future clinical psychologists was carried out once a week, 30 meetings, 90 hours in total, and focused mainly on the development of the following 5 components:
- Adequate self-assessment and assessment of others.
- Adequate identification of emotional stimuli.
- Taking another peoples’ perspective.
- Ability to respond empathically.
- Willingness to forgive oneself and others.
Research objectives were specified as follows:
- Find out whether the training program had an effect on increasing the level of empathy in students – future clinical psychologists.
- Find out whether the training program had an effect on increasing the level of attitude in students – future clinical psychologists.
- Compare the level of individual variables in the experimental and the control groups after carrying out the training program.
Methods: 35 clinical psychologists students were included into two groups. The experimental group participated in a training program during the internship study year and contact with patients . The control group participated in a regular study course. After the internship study year, empathy was assessed by Toronto Empathy Questionnaire (TEQ), and attitude was measured by Helping attitude scale (HAS).
Results and Conclusions: Empathy and attitudes toward the humanities improved significantly (p < 0.01) after participation in the internship training program. Participants of the intervention group showed significantly higher levels of empathy when rated by TEQ and the control group. In addition, significant group differences were observed in attitude when assessed by HAS. The results underpin the value of internship training year in clinical psychologists study programs.