Empathic Communication Skills Across Applied Undergraduate Psychology Courses: A Replication Study

Catherine M. Reich, Lara J. LaCaille, Katherine E. Axford, Natalina R. Slaughter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Background: Although undergraduate psychology curriculum should cultivate performance-based skills to prepare students for helping professions, little work to date has addressed this standard. Objective: This research replicates the methods used in a previous study by examining pre-post changes in empathic communication skills and perceived communication competence across two applied psychology courses: Basic Helping Skills and Internship. This study extended this work by also exploring learning gains from different formats (i.e., face-to-face vs. online), internship types (mental health-related vs. not mental health-related), and the longevity of learning gains. Method: Psychology students (N = 171) completed a measure of communication competence and provided written empathic responses on a vignette-based performance measure at the start and end of the semester. Results: Students perceived their communication skills as improving over time; however, only students in the Basic Helping Skills course showed improved empathic communication skills, especially when the instruction was in a face-to-face format. Students with previous skill training maintained their learning gains over time. Conclusion: Student empathic communication improves most with face-to-face instruction in Basic Helping Skills rather than an internship experience. Teaching Implications: For the development of empathic communication skills, prerequisite requirements for Internship and instructive scaffolding for the application of skills may be recommended.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)49-56
Number of pages8
JournalTeaching of Psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2022

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Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2021.


  • active listening
  • confidence
  • empathy
  • experiential learning
  • helping skills training
  • internship
  • undergraduate curriculum


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