Document Type (Journals)

Original Research


This study explored the impact of teaching empathy to occupational therapy students through the close reading of literary narratives. The study defined empathy as a dynamic process involving Theory of Mind (ToM), emotional resonance, and empathy as a willful act. Empathy is an espoused value of occupational therapy challenged by the modern demands of the market-driven health care system, and research suggests reading literary narratives, or stories with qualities of literature, facilitates greater empathy. Prior studies have also indicated that practicing with greater empathy improves health outcomes and makes occupational therapy sessions more client centered. In this study, a quasi-experimental design was used on occupational therapy students (n = 31) in a graduate level rehabilitation course that involved the close reading, or critical reflection, of literary narratives to teach empathy. Close reading is a teaching process through which students critically read and reflect on literary narratives through instructor-guided reflection. Study findings on the pre and post-test surveys of students found a statistically significant improvement in scores (p < .05) on the Jefferson Scale of Empathy (JSE). No differences were found between pre and post-test surveys of the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test (RMET). The JSE measures empathic awareness, while the RMET measures aspects of empathic performance. Study limitations included mid-course changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the potential impact of social desirability on perceptions of empathy. Study findings suggest the close reading of literary narratives may be an effective learning tool to teach empathic-centered care to occupational therapy students.


Cavenaugh Kelly, PhD, OTR/L is an assistant professor at Husson University in Bangor, Maine.

Declaration of Interest

The author reports no declarations of interest.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.