Empathy Circles

Keeper © Candace Charlton 2016

Empathy Circles:
Building a Culture of Empathy

From 2012 until 2014, I have worked with Edwin Rutsch of the Center for Building a Culture of Empathy and Compassion. Together we developed Empathy Circles as a hands-on instrument to turn theory on empathy into experiential practice.


​To make this practice widely available for others to use, I have written a free book on the Empathy Circles. It shows how the empathy circles are based in science and practice from many different disciplines such as psychology, neuroscience, biology, philosophy and arts (i.e. dance and literature). We took a blended approach to empathy by combining and testing what all these different disciplines have to say about it. The work lead us to propose five phases of empathy: Self-empathy, mirrored empathy, reflective empathy, imaginative empathy and empathic creativity or -action.


Now that the groundwork is done, it is time to study the effects of this practice in a more formal way. Together with my colleague dr. Katherine Train, I am currently setting up an intervention study on the effects of the empathy circles as a peer support intervention for service delivery staff of The Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA).

You can find some of the science underlying the Empathy Circles in this presentation I gave at the 'Empathy and Compassion in Society Conference (2012)', available through slideshare.

And here is a presentation of the stages and thoughts behind these circles on Prezi.

What is unique to the Empathy Circles

  • Combining Evidence and Practice: all parts of the circle are based in science and practice. We combine science from many different disciplines such as psychology, neuroscience, biology, philosophy and arts.
  • Intention: the origin of our actions is always an intention. The circles have the intention of raising the global level of empathy by creating a culture of empathy, and creating a space for people to practice empathy to the best of their abilities.
  • The process is build on- and uses different stages of empathy; The empathic means: self-empathy, mirrored empathy, reflective empathy, imaginative empathy and empathic creativity or -action.
  • We diminish the need to divide ourselves according to beliefs. Stop labeling, start exploring the breadth and depth of human experience through empathic open-mindedness.
The visual impressions of our Empathy Circles were made live during on of our circles by Nancy Margulies


Empathy Circles: a Blended Practice by Lidewij Niezink & Edwin Rutsch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.


You may reference this work:
Niezink, L.W. & Rutsch, E. (2016). Empathy Circles: a Blended Empathy Practice. France: Lidewij Niezink.