Deutsch: Mitgefühl / Español: simpatía / Português: simpatia / Français: sympathie / Italiano: simpatia

Sympathy is an other-directed emotional reaction to another person's state of need, characterized by feelings of concern, compassion, and tenderness.

In psychology, sympathy refers to the feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else's misfortune. This emotional response is not just an acknowledgment of another's hardship but also involves some level of emotional concern or care for the other person, though it does not necessarily mean feeling the same emotions as that person.


Sympathy in psychology is distinct from empathy, although the two are often confused. Sympathy involves understanding from a perspective of care and concern, whereas empathy involves directly feeling what another person is feeling. Sympathy can be seen as a more detached form of compassion, where one feels for the person rather than with the person. This distinction is important in therapeutic and interpersonal relationships, as the type of emotional connection can influence how one interacts with and supports others.

Application Areas

Sympathy plays a significant role in several psychological contexts:

  • Clinical psychology: Therapists often express sympathy to show support and concern for clients without becoming emotionally overwhelmed themselves.
  • Social psychology: Studies how sympathy influences social behavior and interpersonal relations.
  • Health psychology: Looks at how sympathy affects caregiving behaviors and attitudes towards patients.

Well-Known Examples

An example of sympathy in a psychological study might involve examining how individuals' sympathy levels affect their willingness to help in crisis situations, such as donating to disaster relief efforts.

Treatment and Risks

In a therapeutic setting, sympathy must be managed carefully:

  • Benefits: Sympathy can help build rapport and trust between a therapist and a client, as it shows care and understanding.
  • Risks: Excessive sympathy might prevent a more objective understanding of the client’s issues or lead to an overidentification with the client, which can be counterproductive.

Symptoms, Therapy, and Healing

  • Therapy Techniques: Sympathy is often expressed in therapeutic settings through verbal acknowledgments of the client’s difficulties, offering comforting and supportive comments.
  • Healing Process: Sympathy can help clients feel valued and understood, which is an important part of the therapeutic relationship and can facilitate the healing process.


In psychology, sympathy is an emotional response characterized by feelings of pity and concern for the hardships of others. It plays a critical role in social interactions, therapeutic settings, and our broader social responsibilities. While sympathy involves a degree of emotional distance compared to empathy, it remains a powerful tool for supporting and connecting with others in a meaningful way.


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