Assessing suicide hotline volunteers' empathy and motivations


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Assessing suicide hotline volunteers' empathy and motivations
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Barz, Michelle Lee, 1967-
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To my parents -
with love and appreciation


First and foremost, I would like to voice my deepest appreciation of Dr. Paul

Schauble, my doctoral committee chair. His support, understanding, and guidance were

essential in the undertaking and completion of this dissertation. Paul exemplifies not

only a true scientist/practitioner, but also a person of the highest quality, integrity and

inner strength. He will always be a great source of inspiration for me. I would also like

to thank the members of my committee: Dr. Martin Heesacker, who provided helpful

research design, statistical guidance, and insightful comments; Dr. Marshall Knudson, for

all his support, encouragement, teaching and access to the best participants a researcher

could desire; Dr. David Miller, for being a first-rate statistics teacher and for asking

helpful questions to strengthen this study; Dr. Barbara Probert for her insightful

suggestions and warm encouragement; and Dr. Robert Ziller for his helpful input and

perspective on the beginnings of empathy. Kudos to Jim Probert, past fellow trainer, who

remembers what it is like to be a student. His encouragement, support and helpful

suggestions through the data collection and beyond are appreciated. I thank Wendy

Marsh for her assistance with data collection, Teraesa Vinson for her willingness to help

a "stranger," and Jim McNulty for statistical assistance. I give heartfelt gratitude to my

dear friend Mary Pedersen for her time, friendship and support. To the Crisis Center

staff, whom I admire deeply, thank you. I am grateful to all of the Crisis Center staff,

volunteers and trainees, who give of themselves in countless ways to help others.

Finally, to my parents and my husband Stuart, I give very special thanks for continually

providing me with the time, love, faith and encouragement to achieve my goals.


ACKN OW LED GM ENTS ................................................................................................. i,

LIST OF TABLES............................................................................................................ vii

ABSTRACT ..................................................................................................................... viii


1 INTROD UCTION ........................................................................................................... 1

Crisis Intervention Volunteers........................................................................................ 2
Em pathy.......................................................................................................................... 4
M otivations of V volunteers ............................................................... ...................... ........ 6
Current Study ............................................................................................................... 8

2 REVIEW OF LITERA TURE .......................................................................................... 9

Contem porary Perspectives on Em pathy........................................................................ 9
M otivations .................................................................................................. ............... 15
Prosocial Behavior Versus Altruism ......................................................................... 15
Relationship Between A ltruism and Em pathy.......................................................... 16
Evaluation of Effectiveness .......................................................................................... 18
Em pathic Skills......................................................................................................... 18
Professionals Versus N onprofessionals.................................................................... 19
Effects of Training and Experience.......................................................................... 20
Volunteers..................................................................................................................... 22
Characteristics of V olunteers.................................................................................... 23
Volunteer M otivations.............................................................................................. 24
Relationship Between Volunteer Motivations and Abilities.................................... 27
Sum m ary ................................................................................................................... 28
Current Study................................................................................................................ 28
Hypotheses.................................................................................................................... 29
Key Definitions............................................................................................................. 30

3 M ETHOD ..................................................................................................................... 32

Design.................................... ................. .................. 32
Participants .................................................................................................................... 33
Instrum ents ................................................................................................................ 34
Empathy ................................................................................................................... 34
Scales used ............................................................................................................ 34
Other scales considered........... .. ........ ............................................- ...... 38
M otivation ................................................................................... .......... ....... ....... 41
Procedure...................................................................................................... ................ 43
Control Group........................................................................................................... 43
Training Group................................................................................... ....................... 43
Volunteer Group....................................................................................................... 44
Statistical Analyses....................................................................................................... 46

4 RESULTS ...................................................................................................................... 47

Descriptive Statistics ....................................................................... ........................47
Hypothesis I.................................................................................................................. 51
Hypothesis 2 .................................................................................................................. 54
Hypothesis 3 .......................................................................................................... ........ 56
Additional Analyses .................................................................... ...... ....................... 57

5 DISCUSSION ................................................................................................................ 59

Hypothesis 1 .................................................................................................................. 60
Hypothesis 2 .............................................................................................................. .... 62
Hypothesis 3.............................................................................. ....................................64
Consideration of Gender D ifferences............................................ ............................... 65
Study Lim itations................................................................... ....................................... 67
Implications for Future Research.................................................................................. 68
Conclusion................................................................................................. ............... 70


A INFORM ED CON SENT .................................................................... .......................... 72

B INSTRUCTION S .......................................................................................................... 74

C IN STRUM ENTS ...................................................................................................... ..... 75

LIST OF REFERENCES ................................................................................................... 79

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ......................................................... .................................... 90



Table Page

Table 4-1. Means and Standard Deviations of Variables Measured..................................... 48

Table 4-2. Frequencies of the Measured Variables .............................................................. 50

Table 4-3. Mean Ages in the Three Study Groups ............................................................... 51

Table 4-4. Group Differences in M ean Age......................................................................... 51

Table 4-5. Group Means on the Empathy Measures............................................................. 53

Table 4-6. Group Differences in Empathy ......................................................................... 53

Table 4-7. Correlations Among Experience, Age and Empathy .......................................... 55

Table 4-8. Gender Differences on Measures of Empathy and Motivation........................... 58

Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
SRequirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy



Michelle Lee Barz

May 2001

Chairman: Paul G. Schauble
Major Department: Psychology

Suicide is a major mental health problem. Consequently, suicide prevention

agencies have become very important in helping communities deal with this crisis.

Volunteers are often the backbone of suicide prevention and crisis intervention agencies,

and their effectiveness is critical to the services that these agencies provide. This study

investigated general therapeutic empathy and motivations for engaging in helping

behavior among suicide hotline volunteers. The study consisted of three groups: trained

crisis center volunteers (with varying levels of experience), crisis center applicants

accepted for volunteer training, and a control group similar in age, background and

education, By using questionnaires, I measured differences in empathy and in motivation

for volunteering among the groups. I used a nonequivalent control groups design. It was

hypothesized that paraprofessionals volunteering at a suicide/crisis intervention agency

would exhibit more empathy in the form of perspective-taking and empathic

understanding than would untrained individuals, but they would display less empathy as

their length of experience increased compared to less experienced volunteers. It was also

hypothesized that volunteers would display higher levels of altruistic motivation than

would a nontrained control group.

The first hypothesis, that trained volunteers would exhibit greater empathy than

the trainees or the control group, was supported. The second hypothesis, that an inverse

relationship would exist between crisis volunteers' length of experience and amount of

empathy, was not supported. A significant positive correlation was found between length

of experience volunteering and levels of empathic understanding. The variable of

experience was windsorized in order to correct for extreme values (outliers) in the data

set. The third hypothesis, that crisis volunteers would exhibit higher levels of alfruistic

motivation than the control group, was not supported. The volunteer group had the

lowest mean score for altruistic motivation of the three groups studied. Overall results

indicated that crisis intervention volunteers, especially those with more experience, have

effective empathic skills. Results lend support for the use of trained volunteers in suicide

prevention/crisis intervention agencies. The findings also suggest that attempts to retain

volunteers over longer periods would be beneficial to the agency. Reasons for

volunteering consisted of both altruistic and egoistic motivations, and results indicate that

volunteers can be effective regardless of their reasons for volunteering.


Worldwide suicide rates have risen over the last five decades (Lester, 1993). In

the United States, few would disagree that suicide continues to be a major mental health

problem. In industrialized nations, it is among the top ten leading causes of death for

people of all ages (Centers for Disease Control, 1985), and in the United States, it is the

third leading cause of death for individuals aged 15-24 (U.S. Bureau of the Census,

1996), These statistics are supported by the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance study

conducted by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) researchers, who found

that 13% of all deaths among young adults (ages 10-24) result from suicide (Kann et al.,

1998). Nationwide, these same researchers found that 21% of students in grades 9-12

had seriously considered suicide during the 12 months preceding the survey.

Even more alarming is that suicide is probably underreported and thus statistics

underestimate the true incidence of suicide. Although it is well accepted in the literature

on suicide that suicidal ideation is an important risk factor related to future suicide

attempts, Rudd (1989) provided evidence that the true magnitude of the incidence of

suicidal thoughts and behavior is not accurately estimated from national suicide figures.

Some researchers suggest that inaccurate estimates are also due to a lack of standard

nomenclature for referring to suicide-related behaviors (O'Carroll et al., 1996). In

addition, it is estimated that 30% to 40% of individuals who completed suicide made at

least one prior suicide attempt (Maris, 1992).

Crisis and suicide intervention services have proliferated rapidly in the last

several decades (Daigle & Mishara, 1995). This phenomenon may be a response to the

increasing numbers of individuals considering suicide, alarming death rates, and the fact

that suicide attempters are more likely than nonattempters to cope by relying on others to

solve problems rather than on themselves (Orbach, Bar-Joseph, & Dror, 1990). The

modern crisis center movement developed out of the community mental health

philosophy of the 1960s and 1970s, and by the mid-70s, there were over 500 telephone

crisis centers in the United States (Stein & Lambert. 1984).

Crisis Intervention Volunteers

In general, human service agencies rely on significant numbers of volunteers to

serve their client populations (Miller, Powell, & Seltzer, 1990); crisis intervention and

suicide prevention centers are no different. The shortage ofmental health professionals

in many parts of the country has necessitated this use of volunteers, the majority of whom

are non- or paraprofessionals (Rosenbaumn & Calhoun, 1977). In fact, Seely (1992)

points out that crisis and suicide prevention agencies often have paraprofessionals as the

backbone of their services. Miller, Coombs, Leeper, and Barton (1984) found an

association between suicide prevention facilities and a reduction of suicide in young

white females (the most prevalent users of such agencies). The authors suggest that

research should focus on attempting to analyze factors that are responsible for this

reduction. One factor in reducing suicides is crisis counselor effectiveness. In fact, the

growing crisis center movement was supported by the belief that volunteers could be

effective crisis counselors. This belief grew out of the influential work of researchers in

the 1960s (e.g., Litman, Farberow, Shneidman, Helig, & Kramer, 1965; Shneidman,

Farberow, & Litman, 1961) who pioneered the use of nonprofessionals in suicide

prevention. They outlined the specific duties of crisis center workers: to build rapport

and secure communication; to evaluate potential danger to the caller, including suicide

lethality; and to formulate an action plan to mobilize the caller's available resources

(Fowler & McGee, 1973). However, given the prevalence of suicide, as well as the

numerous suicide risk assessment instruments available (see recent reviews by Gutierrez,

Osman, Kopper, Barrios, & Bagge, 2000; Range & Knott, 1997), it is somewhat

surprising that empirical assessments of the effectiveness of paraprofessionals in suicide

intervention agencies have not kept pace (Frankish, 1994; Neimeyer & Pfeiffer, 1994).

McGee and Jennings (1973) cite experts in crisis intervention and suicide

prevention, such as Robert Litman, Edwin Shneidman, and Norman Farberow, to explain

why nonprofessionals, at times, may be better than professionals in providing crisis

services. They suggest that the lack of professional armor and sophisticated categorical

approaches to psychopathology would enable nonprofessionals to connect more

effectively with those in crisis. Their findings (and other studies) are explored in more

depth in the literature review section of this study. However, other than a few studies

(e.g., Homes & Howard, 1980; Knickerbocker & McGee, 1973; McGee & Jennings,

1973), very little research has focused specifically on the difference between

professionals and paraprofessionals in crisis/suicide intervention effectiveness.

The trend of incorporating volunteer and paraprofessional workers into the

treatment of diverse emotional problems has even been referred to as the "third revolution

in mental health" (Tapp & Spanier, 1973, p. 245). These paraprofessionals offer clients

advice, counseling, information, or simply empathic listening. Since crisis situations tend

to be time-limited, here-and-now problems, it appears that the ability to convey warmth

and personal interest, as well as to provide some direction, may be more central to

successful crisis intervention than professional training (which often includes therapeutic

dogma and efforts to probe past experience and personality problems). Two questions

emerge, however, with respect to paraprofessionals providing crisis intervention: how

effective are these individuals (i.e,, can they provide adequate empathy to establish a

therapeutic relationship with individuals in crisis) and what motivates individuals to
volunteer to be part of this thirdd revolution?"

Empatheia, a term coined by the early Greeks, suggests affection and passion,

with a quality of suffering. The Latin equivalent, largely borrowed from the Greek word,

ispathos, which means feeling-perception. More modern usage of empathy, however,

came closer to the concept of knowing someone through entering his or her lived world

and feeling an awareness of his or her experience. This concept of knowing someone

was called Einfuhlung, a word initially used in German aesthetics (Davis, 1994). Alfred

Adler (1931), one of the pioneers of psychoanalysis, proposed this more modern view

and asserted that treatment can only be successful if the helper is genuinely interested in

the person being helped. He suggested that the primary method to convey this genuine

interest is through seeing, hearing, and experiencing the world through the other person.

This idea, however, does not distinguish empathy from sympathetic identification. Carl

Rogers (1957) brought this distinction into prominence with his classical paper on

conditions of therapeutic personality change and his well-known "as if' condition of


Research on and interest in empathy surged in the 1960s and 1970s when Carl

Rogers (1957) proposed his "necessary and sufficient therapeutic conditions." By then,

Truax and his colleagues (Truax & Carkhuff, 1967; Truax & Mitchell, 1971)

accumulated evidence that suggested correlations between empathy and therapeutic

outcome. In fact, more research attention has been focused on the construct of empathy

than on any other variable posited as relevant to the therapeutic process (Patterson, 1984),

Inconsistencies in the research, however, led many researchers to conclude that sufficient

empirical support was lacking (see review by Patterson, 1984), On one hand, many

therapists saw empathy as important (in terms of being warm and supportive). On the

other hand, the stronger contention of empathy as a central ingredient to therapeutic

change was generally not accepted (Bohart & Greenberg, 1997). Consequently, research

on empathy in the 1980s dropped dramatically.

Bohart and Greenborg point out that we live in a "paradoxical age" with respect to

empathy. On one side, empathy has again emerged as an important topic of study in

areas such as social and developmental psychology. Numerous popular books argue that
"emotional intelligence," which includes empathy, may be even more important than IQ

(Goleman, 1995, 1998). In addition, empathy training is now being used in various areas,

including schools, business, and medicine. However, despite evidence that the

therapeutic relationship is the best predictor of success in therapy, and that Rogers' work

on relational conditions specifies that empathy is one of the key ingredients in creating a

therapeutic relationship, "opinions in academic psychology as well as the influence of

managed care often minimize the importance of the relationship in therapy, treating it as

a background variable and assuming all clinicians know how to establish a therapeutic

relationship" (Bohart & Greenberg, 1997, p. 3).

Recently however, interest in empathy has resurged, and numerous researchers

believe that empathy demands to become a major focus of psychological research (for

example, Barrett-Lennard, 1993; Bohart & Greenberg, 1997; Davis. 1994; Duan & Hill,

1996; Hart, 1999; Ickes, 1997; and Orlinski, Grawe, & Parks, 1994), The resurgence of

interest in empathy, the numerous arguments for a need to return to studying empathy,

and the diversity of ways empathy can be conceptualized all prompted this author to

examine empathy in the current study.

Motivations of Volunteers
People who volunteer to provide crisis intervention and suicide prevention

services should possess at least minimal levels of effective, therapeutic empathy. But do

all people with empathic skills volunteer their time in crisis intervention agencies? Of

course not The question then is why do people volunteer to work in crisis/suicide

prevention settings? There is very little in the literature about what motivates individuals

to volunteer to work specifically in crisis intervention agencies. This is surprising given

the fact that so many crisis agencies rely on volunteers as the backbone of their existence

and services. Clary and Snyder (1991) suggest good reasons to study volunteers'


The questions that arise in thinking about volunteer work as...
[voluntary], sustained and nonspontaneous help are fundamentally
motivational in nature. That is, they ask about the motives that are
involved when one decides whether to commit oneself to an ongoing
task and then must regularly decide whether or not to continue to
participate in it. (p. 123)

By understanding the motivations behind people's volunteer efforts, we can better

understand why they volunteer and what keeps them volunteering. In other words,

inquiring about motivations that dispose individuals to volunteer and to sustain their

volunteer involvement over time may help us better understand how crisis intervention

agencies can best attract and retain volunteers.

Volunteers provide necessary crisis intervention and suicide prevention services,

but how do agencies come by this invaluable resource? Why would people knowingly
commit their time and energy, not to mention undergo intense feelings and emotions

themselves, in order to help others deal with crises and/or a desire to die? Are these

individuals somehow more altruistic than those who do not volunteer? Stoffer (1968)

asserts that some people are more inherently helpful than others, and one can surmise that

individuals who display high levels of empathy may also volunteer for more altruistic

reasons. Some developmental researchers have studied the relationship between empathy

and prosocial behavior, such as altruism (Eisenberg & Miller, 1987a, 1987b), or how

empathy can lead to the development and practice of altruism (Hoffinan, 1987). Is the

empathy that might motivate individuals to volunteer in crisis intervention settings simple

altruism or are there more egoistic factors at work? Wiehe and Isenhour (1977) found

that personal satisfaction was seen as the most important motivation for people's interest

in serving as a volunteer. This finding has obvious implications for agencies that require

volunteers. Crisis service agencies typically require more extensive training and

supervision than other volunteer agencies. However, the payoff in the end may be greater

for both the volunteer and the agency. Tasks requiring greater effort, specific skills, good

judgment, emotional involvement and creativity may produce a more satisfied volunteer,

which in turn may have effects on the volunteer's length of service to the agency.

People volunteer at crisis and suicide prevention agencies for many reasons, not

all of them selfless. For example, psychology students may volunteer in order to acquire

clinical skills and experience that can be included in their curriculum vitas or to gain

information about career possibilities. Others may volunteer to increase their self-

understanding in order to enhance personal growth. Still others may volunteer because

they have friends who are either volunteering or already have involvement with an

agency. However, the fact remains that crisis intervention and suicide prevention

agencies rely on the belief, however idealistic, that volunteers within a community will

come forward, with a willingness to invest their time and themselves, in order to achieve

meaningful human interactions (Probert & Fogel, 1997). With a better understanding of

why people volunteer to provide crisis intervention and suicide-prevention services,

perhaps crisis agencies could be even more effective in recruiting and retaining


Current Study

This study examines two important variables in crisis intervention and suicide.

prevention volunteers: their levels of empathy and their motivation for volunteering.

The question as to whether volunteers' level of empathy increases or decreases with

experience is addressed, as is the question of whether volunteers are motivated to become

involved in crisis service agencies for altruistic or egoistic reasons.


This chapter begins with an overview of empathy and motivations for helping.

Next, a review of crisis intervention and suicide prevention effectiveness in service

providers is presented. A look at volunteers then follows, including the relationship

between paraprofessionals' abilities and their motivations for helping others. At the end

of the literature review, the purpose of the current study is presented. The chapter

concludes with the specific research questions to be studied as well as key definitions.

ContemRporary Perspectives on Empathy

Godfrey T. Barrett-Lennard, one of the pioneers of empathy research, studied

interpersonal relationships for over four decades (e.g., Barrett-Lennard, 1959, 1963,

1976, 1978, 1981, 1986, 1993). He began his work as a student of Carl Rogers at the

University of Chicago, when Rogers (1957) first circulated his classic formulation of the

"necessary and sufficient conditions of therapy." At the time, no means existed for

measuring each of the posited relationship conditions, nor was it clear what kind of

design might be both feasible and effective. It was from this context that Barrett-Lennard

began to develop the underpinnings of his original Relationship Inventory for his doctoral

dissertation research (see Barrett-Lennard, 1962, 1993). The Relationship Inventory, an

instrument used to measure empathic understanding, congruence, level of regard, and

unconditionality of regard, is discussed in Chapter 3 of this study. The Relationship

Inventory is based on the proposition that therapeutic personality changes occur in

proportion to the degree that a client experiences certain qualities in the therapist's

response to the client.

Although all therapeutic conditions are important, this study primarily focused on

the condition of empathy. Barrett-Lennard (1976) suggests that for empathic

understanding to occur, it is not essential for the person who is being empathized with to

be literally present. Stated another way, a person may be empathized with through an

audio. or videotape recording, or perhaps through written words or other expressive or

artistic acts, without being present. If physically present (but not attending to the

empathizing person), the person being empathized with could be understood empathically

without realizing it, since empathic understanding refers to a process that is occurring in

the empathizing person (Barrett-Lennard, 1981). Therefore, as Barrett-Lennard (1976)

states, "empathic understanding or empathic knowing, is first and foremost an inner

experience" (p. 175, italics in original). Broadly stated, empathy is concerned with

responsively knowing the moment-to-moment experience of another.

Three main phases in a complete empathic process are distinguished by

Barrett-Lennard (1981, 1993): (a) reception and resonation by the listener, (b) expressive

communication of this responsive awareness by the empathizing person (listener), and

(c) received empathy (or the awareness of being understood). Although Barrett-Lennard

systematically illuminates interpersonal empathy as a multi-stage process occurring

within and between individuals, he stresses that it is a subtle, complex, and multifaceted

phenomenon. The phases he suggests are not a single, closed system and do not

necessarily occur in predictable steps. In fact, considerable discrepancy is possible

among the inner resonation, communication (expression) and reception phases; and at

each stage, considerable latitude exists for empathy to occur.

Davis (1994) suggested that the nature of empathy continues to be a matter of

some disagreement. Specifically, he believed that the term empathy actually refers to

two distinctly Separate phenomena: affective reactivity and cognitive role-taking. This is

similar to Hoffman's (1984, 1987) theoretical framework of empathy which includes

cognitive role-taking and affective responding to others' situations. The affective

response dimension can be distinguished further into feelings of sympathy or concern for

others and feelings of personal distress produced by others' distress.

Davis proposed an organizational model of empathy-related constructs that makes

clear the differences and similarities between empathy's various constructs based on an

inclusive definition of empathy. The constructs include both processes taking place in

the person empathizing and the outcomes that result from these processes. Similar to

Barrett-Lennard's (1981, 1993) conception of a listener (who empathizes) and a receiver,

Davis (1994) proposed that the typical empathy "episode" consists of an observer (e.g.,

the listener) being exposed in some way to a target (e.g., the receiver) and then

responding (either cognitively, effectively or behaviorally).

Davis' model is different from Barrett-Lennard's conception, however, in that

Davis expands the definition of the empathic process. He identifies four related

constructs within this typical episode: antecedents (person or situation characteristics),

processes (mechanisms that generate empathic outcomes), intrapersonal outcomes (both

affective and cognitive responses produced in the observer as a result of exposure to the

target), and interpersonal outcomes (overt behavioral responses to the target). Davis'

model hypothesized associations between the constructs, and he suggested that stronger

relationships exist between constructs that are adjacent (e.g., between antecedents and

processes) than those that are not adjacent (e.g., between antecedents and interpersonal

outcomes). Although Davis' (1994) model borrowed its framework somewhat from

Hofflman (1984) and Staub (1987), he argued that his model allows for examination of
empathy in a multidimensional fashion that accounts for similar outcomes (e.g., helping

behavior) through a multitude of person characteristics and processes (e.g., perceptions,

associations, affective reactions and cognitions).

Changming Duan's (2000) findings supported Davis' contention that empathy is

multidimensional. Duan found that a distinction can be made between intellectual

empathy (the extent to which an observer takes the perspective of the target) and

empathic emotion (the extent to which the observer feels the target's emotions) and that

the two types of empathy may correlate in certain situations. Bohart and Greenberg

(1 997) argued that empathy's multiple dimensions include "... a cognitive or

understanding dimension, ... an affective or experiential dimension, ... action [or a]

communication [dimension], ... a way of being together in relationships, ... [and]

interpersonal confirmation or validation" (p. 419, italics in original).

The argument that empathy research is best served by adopting a

multidimensional approach to the overall construct is convincing (see Davis, 1983b) and

his empathy measure, the Interpersonal Reactivity Index (Davis, 1980) reflects this

multidimensionality. The empathy measure, discussed in Chapter 3 of this study,

includes measures of perspective-taking (cognitive role-taking), fantasy (identification

with characters in movies, novels, plays, and other fictional situations), empathic concern

(feelings of warmth, compassion and concern for others) and personal distress (feelings

of discomfort and anxiety resulting from others' distress). There has been a call in the

literature for more comprehensive approaches to studying and measuring empathy (e.g.,

Chlopan, McCain, Carbonell, & Hagen, 1985; Duan & Hill, 1996), especially in terms of

its multifaceted nature (e.g., Strayer, 1987) and in terms of therapy and helping (Bohart &

Greenberg, 1997; Hall, Davis, & Connelly, 2000). Davis' (1980) measure may partially

meet this research need.

Another prominent empathy researcher, William Ickes, is concerned primarily

with empathic accuracy. He and his colleagues (Ickes, 1993; Ickes, Stinson, Bissonnette,

& Garcia, 1990) defined empathic accuracy as "the ability to accurately infer the specific

content of other people's thoughts and feelings" (Ickes, 1997, p. 3). Although the study

of empathic accuracy is still fairly new, its roots can be traced back over 50 years to the

study of interpersonal perception. Most of Ickes' work differs from that of

Barrett-Lennard's or Davis' in that he is less concerned with the reactions of a perceiver

to emotion expressed by a target (for example, by exhibiting or reporting the same

emotion or correctly identifying another's emotion through cues provided) than with how

well an individual is able to "read" other people's thoughts and feelings. Empathic

accuracy appears to put a greater demand on participants' inferential abilities (Graham &

Ickes, 1997). In theory, empathic accuracy is most synonymous with empathic

understanding; however, when operationally defined for empirical study, empathic

accuracy must necessarily include empathic expression as well (Marangoni, Garcia,

Ickes, & Teng, 1995). An innovative methodological approach developed by Ickes and

his colleagues (Ickes, Bissonnette, Garcia, & Stinson, 1990; Ickes, Stinson et al., 1990;

Ickes & Tooke, 1988) in order to study empathic accuracy is described in Chapter 3 of

this study.

The research on empathic accuracy most relevant to the current study is the work

by Marangoni et al. (1995) regarding empathic accuracy in client-therapist relationships

(see also Ickes, Marangoni, & Garcia, 1997). They found that empathic accuracy

improves with increased exposure to a person, feedback about a person's actual thoughts

and feelings, and increasing the "readability" of the target person. They also found

relatively stable individual differences in the consistency of a perceiver's empathic

accuracy across different people. Ickes (1997) pointed out that these findings have clear

implications for the selection and training of individuals in areas where empathic

accuracy is an essential skill, and crisis intervention is certainly no exception. In addition

to the importance of being able to use empathy accurately, Hall, Davis, and Connelly

(2000) found a relationship between dispositional empathy and therapeutic effectiveness.

This is one of the first studies to assess a personality measure of empathy (specifically

empathic concern and perspective-taking ability) in psychologists and their satisfaction

with therapy.

Although there is disagreement about how best to define and operationalize

empathy (Bohart & Greenberg, 1997), the construct of empathy has a long and

distinguished history of theory and research in helping arenas. The current resurgence of

research into this interesting and important construct attests to the fact that the questions

raised about empathy will cause it to remain a central focus for years to come.


Batson (1987, 1991), in his extensive reviews of prosocial motivation and

altruism, addressed the question of whether or not helping behavior is ever altruistic. He

asserts that the dominant view in Western thought for the past four centuries, as well as in

all major psychological views of motivation (including Freudian, behavioral, and even

humanistic or "third force" theories), is that all prosocial behavior is ultimately motivated

by some form of self-benefit. However, he also acknowledges an alternate view in

Western thought: humans are capable of acting from unselfish motives. This alternate

view suggests the existence of motivations directed toward the benefit of others as

opposed to benefit to oneself. Although an exclusively egoistic view of motivation has

been dominant in Western ideology, the term altruism has reappeared in contemporary


Prosocial Behavior Versus Altruism

According to Jane Piliavin and her associates (Piliavin, Dovidio, Gaertner, &

Clark, 1981), prosocial behavior means "behavior that is positively evaluated against

some normative standard applicable to interpersonal acts" (p. 4). Prosocial behavior can

be distinguished from antisocial and nonsocial behavior, and its designation generally

depends on both the culture in which the behavior occurs and the person making the

judgment about the behavior. Davis (1994) calls prosocial behavior "helping behavior."

His comprehensive review of the literature suggests that a distinction can be made

between helping behavior and altruism, based on the motivations) underlying the act

Helping acts carried out in order to gain material rewards, social approval or internal

rewards (such as pride), or to avoid social sanctions for failing to help or internal

punishment (such as guilt), would simply be helping behavior. Helping acts carried out

solely for the purpose of benefiting or increasing the welfare of another would be deemed

altruistic. Although one might argue that the outcome (that is, the overt behavior of

helping another) is the same regardless of the underlying motivation, "more recent

theorizing and'research has increasingly focused on questions of motivation... with the

result that more sophisticated theoretical accounts and empirical techniques have

evolved" (Davis, 1994, p. 129) to clarify the distinction between altruism and

prosocial/helping behavior.

Relationship Between Altruism and Empathy

Many contemporary psychologists, including Martin Hoffminan (1976, 1981, 1982,

1987, 2000), Dennis Krebs (1975), Melvin Lerner (1982) and Norma Feshbach (1982),

proposed that empathy is the basis for altruistic motivation. Krebs clarified the

motivational distinction:

Psychologists have manipulated various antecedents of helping behavior and
studied their effects, and they have measured a number of correlated prosocial
events; however, ... it is the extent of self-sacrifice, the expectation of gain, and
the orientation to the needs of another that define acts as altruistic.... [We may]
cast some light on the phenomenon of altruism by investigating the idea that
empathic reactions mediate altruistic responses. (p. 1134)

Hoffminan (1982) has studied altruistic motivation using a model that depends on

the interaction between affective and cognitive processes that change with age. He states

that "the basic concept in the model is empathy, defined as a vicarious affective response,

that is,... [a] response that is more appropriate to someone else's situation than to one's

own situation" (p. 281). Davis (1994), in his summary of reviews of the literature on

empathy and altruism, found that reliable and significant positive associations exist

between empathy-related constructs and altruistic behavior. Indeed, Batson (1987,1991)

argued that the source of helping that is intended solely to benefit another (i.e., altruism)

is the reactive emotional response of empathic concern. He and his colleagues conducted

numerous experimental studies demonstrating a relationship between empathic concern

and helping behavior, and they carefully and cleverly designed experiments in which a

distinction between altruistic (sympathy-based) helping and egoistic (guilt-based) helping

was built into the study (Batson et al., 1988). Essentially this was done by making some

participants feel like a decision not to help was justified, thereby eliminating guilt as a

motivating force to help. However, one could still argue that, even though it is "justified"

not to help another, a person might not feel that it is morally acceptable. Overall, though

the research evidence has gone further to establish a link between empathy and altruism,

it is not clear why such a relationship exists.

Cialdini, Brown, Lewis, Luce, and Neuberg (1997) suggested that an alternative

to the altruism-egoism debate regarding motivation to help others is the construct of

"oneness," which they defined as "shared, merged or interconnected personal identities"

(p.483). Essentially, oneness suggests that people help others because they feel more "at

one with" those others. Cialdini et al. state that perceived oneness offers a nonaltruistic

(though not an egoistic) alternative to previous research findings that attributed helping

behavior to empathically driven altruistic motivation. Based on the explanations

presented in the literature review, the debate about what motivates people to help others

is not yet clearly decided, though thought-provoking studies continue to increase our

knowledge about the empathy-altruism connection.

Evaluation of Effectiveness

Two levels of evaluation strategies for suicide prevention services have emerged:

macroanalytic assessments of outcomes for entire programs on suicide rates in

communities, including client satisfaction; and microanalyses of crisis counselors' skill

levels and/or their ability to provide effective help. This study is concerned with the

latter analyses, typically assessed by rating either actual calls, simulated calls or

roleplays, and by developing written tests of skills and knowledge. In one of the most

recent reviews of suicide intervention effectiveness, Neimeyer and Pfeiffer (1994)

examined both macro- and microevaluations. They pointed out that although a variety of

research methodologies were used in the studies evaluating suicide intervention

effectiveness, each methodology has both benefits and inherent limitations on the

information obtained.

Empathic Skills

At the microanalytic level, several studies focused on the general Rogerian factors

of warmth, empathy, and genuineness (e.g., Carothers & Inslee, 1974; Knickerbocker &

McGee, 1973; Miller, Hedrick, & Orlofsky, 1991; Truax & Lister, 1971), assessing

whether volunteers are able to provide the factors, with mixed results. These researchers

generally used scales like Carkhuffs (1969). Such scales rate the ability of counselors to

provide facilitative conditions, especially the Rogerian factors mentioned above.

Carkhuff (1969) theorized that research results were partially confounded by the fact that

the people who were rating facilitative effectiveness might not have functioned at high

enough levels of the facilitative dimensions (especially empathy) themselves. Others

(Duan & Hill, 1996) suggest that the diverse nature of empathy, and the lack of

distinction between different types of empathy, may also have confounded its study.

However, difficulties in understanding or studying empathy should not preclude its

empirical examination. After all, Linehan (1997) stressed that conveying empathic

understanding with suicidal individuals is a critical component of therapy.

Professionals Versus Nonprofessionals

McGee and Jennings (1973) discovered that many volunteer counselors were

effective at becoming genuinely engaged with clients in crisis. They asserted that

nonprofessionals sometimes might be even better suited than professionals for crisis

intervention and suicide-prevention work. Nonprofessionals may naturally provide more

connected, non-detached contact with clients in crisis, whereas professionals may have a

more detached and categorical approach to what might be seen as psychopathology. In

addition, Knott and Range (1998) found that nonprofessionals often hear from someone

with suicidal intentions, are able to recognize signs of suicidality and are willing to help.

This suggests that they might be more able than professionals to help suicidal individuals,

in an informal setting, to explore alternatives other than suicide and to feel hopeful about

the future.

Knickerbocker and McGee (1973) compared "lay" volunteers working at a crisis

center (who had undergone a phone counselor training course) with a group of

professionals and graduate students preparing for professional psychology careers. Using

multiple measures, the three groups were rated for empathy, warmth, and genuineness,

considered in much of the literature as essential for therapeutic change. Across all three

dimensions, the nonprofessional group scored as high as, or higher than, the two

professional groups. All groups scored in the effective range on the dimensions. The

results have often been cited as justification for using trained lay volunteers in crisis

center settings.

Homes and Howard (1980) specifically studied both professional and

paraprofessional crisis workers' ability to recognize suicide lethality factors. They

developed the'Lethality Scale, a 13-item scale that contains questions about suicide-

related factors such as age, gender, immediate stress, suicide plan and sleep disturbance.

The items, which are in multiple choice format, were completed by different groups of

professionals and paraprofessionals. Results indicated that general/family practice

physicians were more aware of lethality factors than were psychiatrists, followed by

psychologists, social workers, ministers and college students. A disturbing finding was

that doctoral-level psychologists only recognized correct responses to about half of the

items, masters-level social workers recognized fewer than half, and ministers recognized

no more than college students! Although definite criteria for a "good" score were not

specified, the findings do suggest that more training and/or experience are related to

greater effectiveness. The results also indicate a need for improved training on suicide

risk factors for both professionals and paraprofessionals alike if they are working with

suicidal clients.

Effects of Training and Experience

Some studies involving roleplays have generally shown that phone counselors can

provide better facilitative conditions with training and experience (France, 1975; Hart &

King, 1979; Neimeyer & Pfeiffer, 1994). In these studies, the counselors actively

participated in the roleplay situation. However, studies involving simulated calls made to

crisis centers in which the phone counselors were not aware that the calls were simulated

have led researchers to conclude that crisis line counselors often do not reach minimum

levels of therapeutic effectiveness (France, 1975; Genther, 1974; Neimeyer & Pfeiffer,

1994; Stein & Lambert, 1984). The outcome of these studies suggests that when

counselors are not aware that they are being assessed on their ability to provide

facilitative conditions, their effectiveness is sub-par. Elkins and Cohen (1982), using

independently developed scales, studied the effects of both training and experience on

counseling skills, knowledge and dogmatic attitudes. The scales contained both written

questions designed to measure attitudes and knowledge and hypothetical callers'

statements that were used to elicit written responses. They found that volunteers'

counseling skills and knowledge improved with training, but not with experience, and

that attitudes were not affected by either training or experience. The research cited above

indicates that while further training and experience can affect how well counselors

provide facilitative conditions, such as empathy, the results are clearly mixed.

Interestingly, some studies suggest that a counselor's length of experience is

inversely related to empathic accuracy. Truax and Carkhuff(1967) argued that most

psychotherapy training programs stress theory and client psychodynamics over how to

create a facilitative relationship. The researchers emphasized that the skills of
relationship building are of primary importance in training good therapists. If such skills

are not continually emphasized, therapeutic empathy may diminish over time (even with

increased therapeutic experience). In a study on the effects of extended, didactic training

on the therapeutic functioning of professional psychology trainees, Carkhuff, Kratochvil,

and Friel (1968) found that over the course of several years training, therapists' ability to

discriminate therapeutic conditions improved, while their ability to offer these conditions


Polenz and Verdi (1977) found that paraprofessionals' ability to discriminate and

communicate facilitative conditions in psychotherapy were not affected by length of

experience. It other words, paraprofessionals with more experience were no better

functioning with respect to realizing and displaying empathy in therapy than

paraprofessionals with less experience. In another study, no difference was found

between newly trained and experienced paraprofessionals on facilitative conditions,

although both were rated higher than untrained controls (ODonnell & George, 1977).

Therefore, the question remains as to whether crisis line workers with more experience

would display lower levels of empathy than those with less experience. Indeed, Kalafat,

Boroto, and France (1979) suggested that a complex relationship exists between

performance of facilitative conditions, values and experience. Although there is a

resurgence in stressing the significance of empathy, to date no research has investigated

how effectively paraprofessionals trained to work in crisis intervention settings utilize

their specific empathic skills (i.e., perspective-taking ability) or whether these skills

decrease as their experience increases.


Volunteerism has existed for centuries, but formalized volunteer programs have

arisen only recently (Ellis, 1985). Volunteerism, especially for college students, became

popular in the 1960s and 1970s as more community service was encouraged through

campus-based programs (Ellis, 1978). However, from the 1980s there has been a decline

in volunteer involvement. Newman (1985) suggested that this decline may be partially

due to both individual and societal trends toward egocentrism and self-development.

Others argued that social and economic forces are increasingly making volunteerism a

luxury that can be undertaken only by the wealthy, and suggested that people are now

seeking growth and self-satisfaction from their volunteer experiences in addition to the

more traditionally hypothesized motivations of helping others (Henderson, 1985).

Characteristics of Volunteers

In their study on the personal characteristics of volunteer phone counselors, Tapp

and Spanier (1973) concluded that mental health volunteers are flexible, spontaneous,

and self-actualizing with the capacity for warmth, understanding, and openness to others.

The researchers stated that this description resembles the description of altruists, and they

suggested that the volunteer mental health counselor is "an altruistic individual whose

desire to make a contribution to his world manifests] itself in his volunteerism" (p. 249).

However, Hobfoll (1980) found that undergraduate volunteer mental health workers

cannot be clearly distinguished from nonvolunteers in regard to personality

characteristics usually associated with the "helping personality" (Carkhuff, 1969), such as

empathy, self-acceptance, and tolerance. Volunteers were found to score higher with

respect to social responsibility, which Hobfoll suggested may partially explain their

motivation for volunteering.

Amato (1985), in his study of planned helping behavior (as opposed to

spontaneous helping behavior), found that people involved in formal, organizational

helping scored higher on adherence to the norm of social responsibility and had an

internal locus of control, compared to those involved in informal helping activities that

involved friends and/or family members. He also suggested that involvement in formal,

planned helping behavior is high if people feel responsible for others' welfare, feel their

helping behavior can have an impact, and hold positive, nonpunitive views towards

others. Interestingly, these are traits similar to those suggested by Rushton (1980) as

being characteristic of an "altruistic personality." In order to assess whether or not

community health volunteers appear to possess characteristics associated with the

altruistic personality, Allen and Rushton (1983) reviewed 19 studies assessing

volunteers' personality characteristics. They found that community volunteers tend to be

more empathic, have higher internal moral standards, possess more positive attitudes

towards themselves, have greater feelings of self-efficacy and are more emotionally

stable than nonvolunteers. These characteristics are also in accord with Rushton's

conception of the altruistic personality. Clearly, the evidence suggests that some people

are more likely to help than others, but are some people truly seeking to help others

(altruistic motivation) or are they ultimately seeking self-benefit? Both Staub (1974) and

Rushton (1980) suggested that altruism is not an alternative to egoism, but rather, it is a

special form of egoism; the rewards for acting prosocially are internal or self-

administered rather than external or socially administered. Their research, however, did

not address the question of underlying motivation.

Volunteer Motivations

In order to address the question of underlying motivation, Daniel Batson and his

colleagues used a research paradigm that would enable them to infer participants'

ultimate goal when helping (Batson, Bolen, Cross, & Neuringer-Benefiel, 1986). First,

they examined four personality variables identified as contributing to an altruistic

personality: social responsibility, self-esteem, ascription of responsibility and

dispositional empathy. They then observed helping under specific systematically varied

conditions, where escape from the negative consequences for self of not helping another

(e.g., shame and guilt) was either easy or hard. Batson et al. found no evidence that any

of the four "altruistic" personality variables was associated with altruistic motivation,

although three bf the variables (self-esteem, ascription of responsibility and empathic

concern) were associated with prosocial motivation (i.e., helping others). From these

results, should it be concluded that the "altruistic personality" is not really altruistic?

Such a conclusion may be premature based on the fact that other personality variables

that contribute to an altruistic personality (e.g., self-actualization, flexibility and

tolerance) were not measured and that helping responses were examined in only one need


Traditionally, volunteer motivations were assumed to be altruistic. Perhaps our

conception of volunteers falls into a special subgroup of those who provide prosocial

behavior. Nonetheless, this view of volunteers influenced the way in which volunteer

programs are designed, operated and studied. Clary and Snyder (1991) addressed the

question of volunteer motivations in terms of a functional analysis. According to the

researchers, a functional analysis is concerned with the needs, motives and

social/psychological functions being served by volunteer activities. They asserted that

volunteer activity based on altruistic concern for others in need and/or a desire to

contribute to society serves a "value-expressive function." This function incorporates the

idea that a person's values about others' well-being influences helping behavior.

Additionally, researchers focused on other motivations that cause people to

volunteer. In her study of 4-H volunteers, Henderson (1981) found that the primary

motivation for adult volunteers was affiliation, or the desire to interact with others. This

reason for volunteering serves a "social-adjustment function" (Clary & Snyder, 1991),

which reflects normative influences from one's social network. Fitch (1987), in his study

of the motivations of college students volunteering for community service, found that

motives are both egoistic and altruistic; Wiehe and Isenhour (1977), studying community

agency volunteers, found similar results. Gidron (1978) asked volunteers in health and

mental health institutions to report the extent to which they expected to receive extrinsic

rewards (rewards controlled by the institution) and intrinsic rewards (rewards associated

with the subjective meaning of the work for the volunteer). While two-thirds of the

sample expected some extrinsic rewards, the vast majority expected primarily intrinsic

rewards. Gidron's findings did not explicitly address which rewards would be deemed

altruistic or egoistic; thus, it is not clear how those two motivations impacted volunteers'

reasons for volunteering.

Henderson (1980) suggested that each volunteer has unique motivations and

expectations of his or her experience. Ascertaining these motivations can contribute to

providing volunteers with a satisfactory experience while simultaneously staffing

community agencies. In addition, the possibility that volunteers in different

organizations are very different types of people, and have unique motivations for

volunteering, has implications for recruitment and retention of volunteers (Sergent &

Sedlacek, 1990). However, the question remains as to whether crisis/suicide

paraprofessionals have different levels of altruistic reasons for volunteering than those

individuals engaging in other forms of volunteer work; or if crisis intervention volunteers

are more altruistic than those who do not volunteer at all. Research suggests that those

involved in helping professions (and possibly in similar volunteer activities as well) do

tend to have more of an altruistic personality than those in other arenas (Amato, 1985).

Relationship Between Volunteer Motivations and Abilities

Very few studies have examined the way in which people's motivations for

volunteering have impacted their ability to display necessary skills in particular

community agency settings, yet it is certainly plausible that a person's motivation for

volunteering could directly impact their willingness to take risks, learn new skills and

perhaps even adopt new ways of thinking or conceptualizing. Some researchers have

argued that helping behavior involves more than just willingness to help; abilities are an

important feature of effective helping. Clary and Orenstein (1991) studied the

relationship between crisis counselors' motives for volunteering and abilities to provide

therapeutic responses to their actual helping behavior. Black and DiNitto (1994)

examined the motivations, among other variables, of volunteers who work with survivors

of rape and battering. From these two studies, volunteers' motivations were found to

impact a multitude of areas, including amount of help given to clients, length of volunteer

service, and volunteer satisfaction. Research has also demonstrated links between

altruistic motivation and situational empathic concern (Batson, 1987) as well as

commitment to crisis-counseling volunteer work (Clary & Miller, 1986). In addition,

Clary and Orenstein (1991) found a direct relationship between altruistic motives for

volunteering and the length of time people spent as a volunteer. They predicted that

early-terminating volunteers (i.e., volunteers who decide, of their own volition, to

terminate their 9-month volunteer commitment early) would report lower levels of

altruistic motivation for volunteering at the beginning of training than completed-service

volunteers (who served as volunteer counselors for 9 or more months). All the

completed-service volunteers in Clary and Orenstein's study had served more than 12

months. Analyses supported their prediction and were statistically significant to the

p <. 005 level.


Research, then, has demonstrated that a helper's characteristics and motives can

affect helping behavior, particularly the amount of help (i.e., deciding whether to help

and how much). Still to be answered are questions about the effectiveness of help (i.e.,

does the helper have the ability to help and is the help actually helpful). As pointed out

by Neimeyer and Pfeiffer (1994) and others (e.g., Frankish, 1994; Clary & Orenstein,

1991), this aspect of help has been relatively ignored, and when it has been examined, the

focus has tended to remain on its impact on the amount of help. Thus, it is important to

separate intentions to help from ability to help, since these two components are not


Current Study
In response to the paucity of research evaluating the effectiveness of

paraprofessionals in suicide prevention, and to address some of the issues and questions

raised above, this study proposes to examine two major areas that are important in suicide

and crisis intervention. The purpose of this study is to investigate what differences exist

in general therapeutic empathy and motivations for engaging in helping behavior between

suicide hotline volunteers and untrained individuals. The benefits that may develop from

this study include helping to predict an individual's likelihood of volunteering in a crisis

intervention agency as well as his or her success as a crisis intervention volunteer.


Paraprofessionals who volunteer at a suicide/crisis intervention agency will

exhibit more empathy in the form of perspective-taking ability and empathic

understanding than untrained individuals, but display less empathy as length of

experience increases compared to less experienced volunteers, and express higher levels

of altruistic motivation for volunteering than a nontramined control group. The specific

hypotheses to be tested are:

Hypothesis 1: Individuals who are trained crisis/suicide intervention volunteers

will exhibit greater empathy, in the form of perspective-taking ability and empathic

understanding, than will volunteers who have not yet undergone training or

undergraduate psychology students untrained in crisis intervention (including active

listening skills). Hol; There will be no difference in amount of empathic perspective-

taking ability and empathic understanding between trained crisis center volunteers and

untrained volunteers or psychology undergraduates.

Hypothesis 2: As a crisis intervention volunteer's length of experience increases,

the amount of empathy will decrease. H02: There will be no difference in the amount of

empathic perspective-taking ability and empathic understanding between trained crisis

center volunteers who have more experience and those who have less experience

volunteering at the agency.

Hypothesis 3: When subjects consider reasons why they would volunteer,

suicide/crisis hotline volunteers will express higher levels of altruistic motivation than

nontrained psychology undergraduates. H03: There will be no difference in amount of

altruistic motivation as a reason for volunteering between crisis center volunteers and

undergraduate psychology students.

Key Definitions

Altruism: helping behavior based on concern for the welfare of another rather

than concern for the welfare of the self (i.e., egoism).
Altruistic Motivation: the extent to which a person volunteers out of concern for

others as opposed to concern for self.

Empathic Understanding: "an active process of desiring to know the full, present

and changing awareness of another person, of reaching out to receive his communication

and meaning, and of translating his words and signs into experienced meaning that

matches ... aspects of his awareness that are most important to him .... It is an

experiencing of the consciousness 'behind' another's outward communication, but with

the continuous awareness that this consciousness is originating and proceeding in the

other" (Barrett-Lennard, 1962, p. 3). It is not "essential for the person with whom one is

empathizing to be literally present ... [for it is] an inner experience" (Barrett-Lennard,

1976, p. 175).

Empathy: the ability to accurately perceive and understand the specific content of

another person's thoughts and feelings and the ability to infer and communicate that

person's emotional statess.

Paraprofessional: volunteers specifically trained in crisis intervention and suicide

prevention (including training using active listening skills) in order to answer telephone

calls from individuals in suicidal, personal, and/or emotional crisis.


Perspective-Taking: the tendency or ability of the respondent to spontaneously

adopt the perspective of other people and see things from their point of view.

Success as a Volunteer: completion of crisis intervention training and continuing

to volunteer beyond the six-month time requirement.

Volunteer: "someone who contributes services without financial gain to a

functional subeommunity or cause" (Henderson, 1985, p.31).


In this chapter, the methods used to test the research hypotheses will be discussed.

It includes a discussion of the research design, along with its strengths and weaknesses; a

description of the participants, including demographic information; and a presentation of

the instruments used, as well as other instruments considered but found lacking for this

study. In addition, the procedures followed in the study, as well as the specific analyses

used, are discussed.


The sample studied consisted of three groups: crisis center volunteers, crisis

center applicants who were accepted for volunteer training, and undergraduate

psychology students. Participants were not randomly assigned to conditions in that the

applicants and volunteers were self-selected groups. Since participants in the control

group did not choose to volunteer for the crisis center, some pre-existing differences in

attitudes and motivations between the control group and the volunteer group may have

existed. However, since most applicants and volunteers for this particular crisis center

comprised upper-division undergraduates majoring in psychology, the control group was

drawn from an upper-division psychology course required for psychology majors in order

to be as similar as possible in composition to the research groups. The study measured

the differences in empathy and in motivation for volunteering between trained

paraprofessionals (with differing levels of experience), applicants accepted for training,


and a control group similar in age, background and education. Data were gathered

through the use of paper and pencil tests (see Instruments section), with an initial goal of

having 30 people in each group. The actual number of participants in each group is

discussed under Participants. The overall design was a nonequivalent control groups



The three participant groups were (a) paraprofessional volunteers with varying

amounts of experience at the crisis agency, (b) individuals who had been accepted for

volunteer training at the crisis agency (but had not yet completed training), and (c)

undergraduate psychology students enrolled in Personality Theory at a large southeastern

university. All paraprofessional volunteers were from a prominent southeastern crisis

intervention agency. Any control group participants who had either previously

participated in, or were currently enrolled in. the crisis center training program were not

included as part of the control group in the analyses.

An initial goal of 30 participants in each research group (volunteers and trainees)

was approved by the dissertation committee. In actuality, there were 75 participants in

the volunteer group, 27 in the training group and 46 in the control group. The training

group was predicted to be the most difficult group from which to collect data due to the

relatively small number of people who participate in training classes. However, it was

determined, after seeking statistical consultation, that 27 participants in the training group

was an adequate number of respondents for the analyses.

Overall, 148 people participated in the study (26 men and 122 women); 115 of the

participants were students and 33 were not; most of the participants were

single/unmarried (123); and racial composition of the participants was as follows: 116

Caucasian, 12 Hispanic, 10 Asian/Pacific Islander, 6 African American, and 4 Other.

The age range of participants was 18-57, with an average age of 26.2 years (SD = 9.6).



Scales used

In order to assess participant's empathy, two instruments were used. The first

instrument is a subscale of the Interpersonal Reactivity Index (Davis, 1980), a 28-item

instrument that measures four aspects of empathy. Carey, Fox, and Spraggins (1988)

designed a study to verify the multidimensional nature and item composition of the

Interpersonal Reactivity Index subscales through factor analysis. It is important to

replicate the factor structure of the instrument with varying samples to demonstrate that

the factors have a wider range of applicability as generalized constructs (to the extent that

invariance is found across changes in either variables or individuals). The Interpersonal

Reactivity Index subscales measure four discernibly different empathy dimensions and

the constructs measured by the Interpersonal Reactivity Index have generalizability

outside the original samples used to develop the instrument (Carey et al., 1988). The

subscale most relevant to the current study is the perspective-taking (PT) scale, which is

related to the cognitive ability to judge other people accurately (Davis, 1983b). It

involves the "tendency to spontaneously adopt the psychological view of others" (Davis,

1983a, pp. 113-114), which is quite compatible with Rogerian empathic understanding.

Carey et al. (1988) suggest that the PT scale is a useful measure of empathic effectiveness

in counseling. In addition, Clary and Orenstein (1991) found that perspective-taking is

involved in helping, but "is more relevant for effectiveness than for amount of help" (p.

63). It seems that perspective-taking focuses on collecting information and improving

understanding, clearly cognitive processes, rather than engaging in altruistic behavior,

which may be more emotional (Davis, 1983b). The coefficient alpha of the PT scale is

.78. Okun, Shepard, and Eisenberg (2000) used the PT scale to assess volunteers-in-

training at the Humane Society and Parents Anonymous. The coefficient alpha for the

scale in their study was .81.

The other three subscales of the Interpersonal Reactivity Index, which were not

used in this study, are the fantasy scale (a tendency to become deeply involved in

fictitious situations), the personal distress scale (a tendency to experience emotions

related to discomfort and distress when faced with a needy other), and the empathic

concern scale (a tendency to experience emotions of concern and sympathy when

exposed to a person in distress). The fantasy and personal distress subscales were not

used in the current investigation since no studies have indicated their usefulness as

measures for empathic effectiveness in counseling situations. The empathic concern

subscale was not used since it has been shown to have no relationship to measures of

interpersonal functioning (Davis, 1983a). In addition, people with higher scores on this

subscale reported more unease and anxiety around others; that is, Davis found a generally

positive relationship between scores on the empathic concern subscale and measures of

shyness, social anxiety and audience anxiety as well as slight tendencies toward chronic

fearfulness and vulnerability. Each of the four subscales consists of seven items rated on

a scale of 0 (does not describe me well) to 4 (describes me very well). For each scale,

overall scores can range from 0 to 28, with 28 indicating a high degree of that particular

aspect of empathy.

The other instrument used to measure participants* empathy was Barrett-

Lennard's Relationship Inventory (Barrett-Lennard, 1978). This instrument "is designed

to measure fou dimensions of interpersonal relationships adapted from Rogers'(1957,

1959) conception of the necessary conditions for therapeutic... change" (Barrett-Lennard,

1978, p. 1). It measures empathy, congruence, level of regard, and unconditionality.

These four theoretically critical variables of therapist/counselor-to-client responses can

be assessed from the perceptions of either the client or the therapist. For the purpose of

this study, the variable of interest is empathy from crisis volunteer's (counselor's)

perspective. Hundreds of studies have used various adaptations and research applications

of the Relationship Inventory (Barrett-Lennard. 1986: Barrett-Lennard & Bergerson,

1975). One useful application of the Relationship Inventory is that an ordinary person

can respond to questions in reference to any significant relationship with another person,

which is consistent with the usefulness of the instrument in a counseling or therapy

research context.

The Relationship Inventory is a 64-item questionnaire, in which a person judges

statements with respect to how true or untrue they are about him/her. Gurman (1977), in

his extensive review of the Relationship Inventory, reports mean split-half (internal)

reliability and test-retest coefficients of.80 or above for each of the four Relationship

Inventory subscales. Reliability, or consistency, is centrally concerned with whether an

instrument yields the same result whenever it is applied to something that it is designed to

measure which has remained constant from one occasion of measurement to another.

Barrett-Lennard (1986) states that official norms for the Relationship Inventory

do not exist. Such norms would indicate that in a certain percent of cases, scores on a

given subscale exceed or fall below a specified value. Fortunately, such norms are not

essential for most research. The task of calculating norms for the Relationship Inventory,

where there are at least 10 principal variants of the 64-item version of the instrument, and

at least as many significant revisions and adaptations, seems particularly complex.

Relationship Inventory data have been collected in various contexts (e.g., diverse therapy

research studies, education-based studies, marital and family sphere studies, and

communication studies.), through different viewpoints, and in a wide array of

relationships of varying duration and significance. These different variables suggest that

accumulating and organizing data into meaningful normative form would be a formidable


For the purpose of the current study, the hypotheses state that differences between

groups will exist (e.g., volunteers will exhibit greater empathy than will trainees or

controls); since the Relationship Inventory scores are measured as a dependent variable,

norms or score cut-offs are not necessary to measure differences or compare groups. In

addition, it should not be taken for granted that "more [i.e., a higher score] means better

on all Relationship Inventory scales, in all cases" (Barrett-Lennard, 1986, p.455).

The Empathic Understanding subscale of the Relationship Inventory consists of

16 statements designed to measure participants' empathy. The items in each subscale are

rated on a 6-point scale (+3, +2, +- 1, -1, -2, -3), with +3 indicating yes, I strongly feel it is

true about me and -3 indicating no, I strongly feel it is not true about me. Half of the

items in each subscale are negatively worded and reverse-scored. Overall scaled scores

can range from -48 to 48, with a positive 48 indicating the highest degree of empathic

understanding. Gurman (1977) reviewed a substantial range of contexts and

investigations using the Relationship Inventory. He found a mean coefficient alpha of

.84 for the empathy subscale. The positive results of a range of independent predictive

studies concerted with the association between relationship conditions measured by the

Relationship Inventory and outcome in therapy or helping situations form strong

evidence of construct (predictive) validity. Gurman concludes that "there exists

substantial, if not overwhelming evidence in support of the hypothesized relationship

between.., therapeutic conditions and outcome in individual therapy and counselling"

(p. 523).

In general, the issue of validity is rather complex in psychosocial measurement. It

depends on the clarity of a concept and on the definition of what is intended to be

measured, on the meaningfulness of viewing the construct as variably falling along a low

to high continuum or sequence, and on the congruence between the conceptualized

dimension and the actual variable being measured. Different types of validity, such as

content, predictive, factoriall," and construct, address some of the above issues. Both the

Interpersonal Reactivity Index (Davis, 1980) and the Relationship Inventory (Barrett-

Lennard, 1978), understood and applied appropriately, can be treated as valid scales.

Other scales considered

Although not easily adaptable to the current study, Ickes and various colleagues

developed the "unstructured dyadic interaction paradigm" to measure empathic accuracy

used in a naturalistic setting (e.g., see Ickes, 1993; Ickes, Bissonnette, Garcia, & Stinson,

1990; Ickes, Stinson, Bissonnette, & Garcia, 1990; Ickes & Tooke, 1988). Members of a

dyad are unobtrusively audio- and videotaped while interacting in a "waiting room." At

the end of the observation period, participants are partially debriefed, then each member

of the dyad is asked to separately review the videotape and assess the thoughts and

feelings he or she had during the "waiting room" interaction. Participants are then

directed to view the tape a second time and asked to infer the content of their partner's

thoughts and feelings during the interaction. Finally, both participants are asked to

complete a posttest questionnaire assessing their perceptions of themselves and their

partner during the interaction. A global measure of empathic accuracy is then computed

by trained, independent raters making similarity judgments. The resulting percentage

measure of empathic accuracy (which controls for individual differences in total number

of inferences made as well as reliability of similarity judgments) ranges from .00 (total

inaccuracy) to 1.00 (perfect accuracy). The eclectic approach of this method is appealing

in that it compensates for weaknesses found in using just one approach to assess

empathy. However, this method would be extremely difficult to use as intended (in a

naturalistic setting) with crisis hotline volunteers, whose interactions transpire over the

telephone with callers who typically have complete anonymity and tend to be in

relatively high levels of distress.

In a review of research on the reliability of raters for scales based on the Carkhuff

and Truax facilitative dimensions (e.g., empathy), Wolber and McGovern (1977) found

that higher interrater reliabilities are more likely when raters are extensively trained in

communication skills. In addition, Kurtz and Grummon (1972) found that correlations

between observer ratings of empathy with client perceptions have generally been low.

This does leave the construct validity of ratings open to question (Bohart & Greenberg,

1997). Marangoni, Garcia, Ickes, and Teng (1995) suggest that paper and pencil

measures of empathic ability are a viable alternative to the time-intensive performance

measure that Ickes and his colleagues developed.

Other tests considered for measuring empathy, but found to be lacking for the

current study, icluded the Human Empathic Listening Test (HELT; Coonfield, Nida, &

Gray, 1976), the Crisis Center Discrimination Index (CCDI; Delworth, Rudow, & Taub,

1972), and the Helpful Responses Questionnaire (HRQ; Miller, Hedrick, & Orlofsky,

1991). The HELT consists of 12 tape-recorded crisis vignettes and 60 questions

regarding the vignettes. It is designed to measure three aspects of empathic listening:

Understanding, Interest, and Response-Ability. Gray, Nida, and Coonfield (1976) found

mixed results regarding the HELTs reliability and validity: the instrument was valid

discriminantt validity), however the Understanding subscale had an internal consistency

of only .29, the Response-Ability scale, .40, and the Interest subscale was .88. The

reliability estimates of the first two subscales are quite low, suggesting that the HELT

may not be a reliable measure of empathic listening ability.

The CCDI is another measure developed for the selection and evaluation of

paraprofessionals. It is based on Carkhuffs (1969) research with the facilitative and

action-oriented dimensions relevant in the helping process, which include empathy,

respect, and confrontation. The CCDI consists of 16 audiotaped excerpts of crisis center

calls, with topics such as suicidal ideation, pregnancy, school difficulties, and

relationship problems. Although scoring criteria are included with the instrument, no

reliability or validity data are given.

Finally, the HRQ is a brief free-response questionnaire that measures participants'

ability to generate empathic responses. The instrument requires that each response be

rated on a "5-point ordinal scale of depth of reflection" (Miller, Hedrick, & Orlofsky,

1991, p. 445), with a score of 1 indicating no reflection and an interruption in the flow of

communication; and a score of 5 indicating that the reflection includes inferred meaning

and a reflection of feeling. The interrater reliability in the Miller et al. (1991) study is

high (.93), but test-retest reliability was only .45. The authors acknowledge that other

variables probably account for variance in empathic skills and suggest further study. No

validity data for the study is given nor are cutoff scores suggested for adequate or good



In order to measure participants' altruistic motivation, an adaptation of Clary and

Orenstein's (1991) Measure of Altruistic Motivation was used. Altruistic motivation, as

opposed to egoistic motivation, is operationally defined as the extent to which a person

volunteers out of concern for others versus concern for self. The measure consists of 25

possible reasons for performing crisis counseling, of which five are identified as

representing altruistic reasons (75% agreement in a sample evaluating the reasons by

raters knowledgeable about motivational issues) and 20 as egoistic reasons. To assess

altruistic motivation, participants are asked to indicate their top five reasons for

volunteering. Ranks are then reverse-scored (i.e., the most important reason receives a

score of 5, the next most important reason receives a score of 4, and so on) and

participants' overall altruistic motivation score is computed from the reverse ranks of any

altruistic reasons included in their top five choices. Scores on the measure range from 0

(only egoistic reasons chosen) to 15 (only altruistic reasons chosen).

This measure is derived from ratings by an independent group of raters

knowledgeable about motivational issues and appears to be a reasonable instrument In

addition, this scale can be presumed and treated as valid based on the conclusions of the

independent raters. Lastly, Clary and Orenstein's (1991) measure is one of the only

published instruments that assess motivations for performing crisis hotline volunteer

work. However, it should be noted that internal consistency would not be expected from

this scale due to the nature of the measure. It would be expected that participants'

reasons for volunteering would not necessarily be related to each other, and choosing one

altruistic reason for volunteering does not mean that other altruistic reasons are more

likely to be chosen. For example, one reason an individual might volunteer is because it

is a "chance to help others" (an altruistic reason) but this does not suggest that the person

is only volunteering for altruistic reasons. This same person may also choose additional

reasons to volunteer, such as "to gain skills which will be applicable to other situations"

and "for personal growth" (both egoistic reasons). Walsh and Betz (1990) state that

internal consistency often refers to homogeneity of items. Since the Measure of

Altruistic Motivation scale contains both altruistic and egoistic reasons for volunteering,

homogeneity of items would not be expected. Thus, estimates of internal consistency

would likely reflect that items are heterogeneous.


Control Group

For the control group, a brief verbal explanation of the study was given and

questionnaire packets were handed out to students in a Personality Theory class during

the Fall 2000 semester. The Informed Consent form and a brief instruction sheet were

attached to the front of the questionnaire packet, which included a personal information

(demographic) sheet, and the three instruments (the Relationship Inventory, Interpersonal

Reactivity Index and Measure of Altruistic Motivation) in one of six assigned orders (to

ascertain for order effects). An opportunity to be debriefed after the study was offered to

any interested participants. All students in attendance completed a questionnaire packet

and answered every question. Of the 47 packets returned, one was not used as part of the

control group data in the study since the participant had already filled out a questionnaire

packet in Crisis Center training. All participants (i.e., all groups in the research study)

were given questionnaire packets that contained a consent form, an instruction page, and

the three instruments in one of six assigned orders.

Training Group

For the training group, the Crisis Center Training Director agreed to give

questionnaires to potential volunteers undergoing training during the Fall 2000 training

class; forty potential volunteers attended the initial Saturday training. The Training

Director gave questionnaire packets to one trainer for each group after the all-day

Saturday training. Volunteers-in-training are divided into several groups, each run by

two trainers, one of whom directs the training for a particular evening. The trainer

handed out questionnaires to the volunteers-in-training during their first Tuesday evening

session and asked them to return the questionnaires by the following training class (the

next Thursday). Since two potential volunteers "dropped out" of training after the initial

Saturday training, a total of 38 trainees received questionnaire packets. The

questionnaire packets were the same as the packets handed out to the control group,

except that a letter written by the dissertation study researcher was attached to the front of

the packet. The letter briefly described the study, gave some background on the

researcher's volunteer experiences with the Crisis Center, and asked trainees to

participate. Twenty-three questionnaire packets were collected by trainers at the

beginning of the next training class; trainers told the volunteers-in-training who had not

returned a packet that they could return their packet at the next training class (the next

week) and four more questionnaire packets were collected at that training class. Thus,

the return rate (27 out of 38) was 71.1%. All questionnaire packets returned by potential

volunteers were complete and used in the training group data set. Trainers gave all

questionnaire packets to the Training Director, who sent them directly to the researcher.

Volunteer Group

The volunteer group was divided into two groups for the purpose of disseminating

the questionnaire packets: active and inactive volunteers. It was decided, in consultation

with the Crisis Center Director, that active volunteers would receive questionnaire

packets in their mailboxes at the Crisis Center, whereas inactive volunteers (i.e.,

volunteers not actively or currently volunteering at the Crisis Center) would receive

questionnaires in the mail. All volunteer data was collected during Fall 2000 semester.

Questionnaire packets were sent to the Crisis Center Director for dissemination into

active volunteers' mailboxes. A letter similar to the one attached to the trainees' packets

was attached to the front of each questionnaire packet In addition, the Crisis Center

Director included a cover letter with each of the active volunteers' packets encouraging

their participation in the study. Questionnaires were placed in the 102 active volunteers'

mailboxes. Of the 102 active volunteers, 90 checked their mailboxes during the research

period. Completed questionnaires were returned to a Staff mailbox.

This researcher sent 102 questionnaire packets to inactive volunteers (along with

an introduction letter similar to the one for active volunteers) via the U.S. Postal Service.

Stamped return envelopes, marked "surveys" were included in the mailed packets. After

consultation with the Director of the Crisis Center, it was decided that the return

envelopes would be addressed to the Director, rather than the researcher, with an

expectation that doing so would increase the return rate. However, no additional cover

letter from the Director was included with the mailed questionnaire packets. Of the

initial 102 questionnaire packets mailed, eight were returned by the Postal Service as

undeliverable or unable to forward due to non-current addresses. In addition, three

packets were not delivered to student participants (who were inactive volunteers) because

their campus addresses were not current. Therefore, 91 questionnaire packets went out to


The return rate goal was, as stated earlier, 30 completed questionnaire packets

from the entire volunteer group. The goal was exceeded: 40 packets were returned from

the inactive volunteers (a 44% return rate) and 35 from the active volunteers (a 39%

return rate) for a total of 75 packets. The overall return rate for the volunteer group was

41.4% (75 returns out of 181 questionnaires disseminated). The Director mailed all

returned packets to the researcher. Only the volunteer group had protocols with answers

omitted on the empathy and motivation instruments. Protocols with omitted answers

were included only in analyses that did not pertain to the omissions. In other words, if a

participant did not list country of origin, but all the instruments were completed, then the

participant's data regarding the instruments were used in the analyses; however, if a

participant did hot answer questions on the Interpersonal Reactivity Index, for example,

then the data were not used.

Statistical Analyses

With respect to the three hypotheses, the following statistical analyses were used:

Hypothesis 1: One-way, between participants MANOVA for unequal n's, with

group (either trained, untrained, or college students) serving as the independent variable

and with perspective-taking ability and empathic understanding serving as the dependent


Hypothesis 2: Simultaneous multiple regression with the variables in the analysis

being number of months of post-training experience, perspective-taking and empathic


Hypothesis 3: Independent t-tests, with group (volunteers vs. untrained college

students) serving as the independent variable and altruistic motivation serving as the

dependent variable.


This chapter begins with a summary of the results supplied through descriptive

statistics and includes four tables. The chapter then expounds on the specific results for

the three hypotheses and explains the analyses used. It concludes with some post-hoc


Descriptive Statistics

With respect to the perspective-taking subscale of the Interpersonal Reactivity

Index, which measures empathy through the tendency of a person to spontaneously adopt

the psychological view of others (answers range from 0 = does not describe me well to 4

= describes me very well, with an overall score range from 0 to 28 on the seven

questions), respondents scored a mean of 20.3 (SD = 1.06). On the Relationship

Inventory empathic understanding subscaie (where answers could be -3, -2, -1, +1, +2,

+3, with -3 = no. I strongly feel it is not true about me and +3 = yes, I strongly feel it is

true about me, and the overall score range for the 16 questions is -48 to +48), the mean

score was 17.1 (SD = 10.3). On the Measure of Altruistic Motivation, only the five

altruistic reasons are scored by reverse-scoring the rankings and then adding the scores

together, with overall scores ranging from 0 to 15; the mean of the Measure of Altruistic

Motivation was 5.3 (SD = 3.5). The average age of participants was 26.2 (SD = 9.6) and

the average amount of time (in months) that volunteers worked at the Crisis Center was

11.3 (SD = 15.6). Means, standard deviations, ranges, and measures of internal

- 47

consistency are listed in Table 4-1. Seven respondents did not answer one or more items

on the Relationship Inventory measure: consequently, the number of respondents on that

scale is 141.

Table 4-1. Means and Standard Deviations of Variables Measured

Variable N Mean SD Range a coefficient

IRIa 148 20.3 3.6 8,27 0.64b

RI 141 17.1 10.3 -12,46 0.78

AM 148 5.3 3.5 0,14 -

AgeC 148 26.2 9.6 18,57

Timed 74 11.3 15.6 2,42

Note. Dashes indicate that internal reliability was not calculated for this measure since
the nature of the measure suggests that it would not make sense to test for internal
consistency. If a respondent chooses one altruistic reason, s/he would not be expected to
necessarily choose other altruistic reasons. In addition, although the range of scores was
0 to 14, only one participant scored a 14. Five respondents scored a 10 and three
respondents scored a 12; no one scored an 11 or a 13, and all other respondents' scores
fell below 10.
a IRI is the Interpersonal Reactivity Index; RI is the Relationship Inventory; and AM is
the Measure of Altruistic Motivation.
b Cronbach's alpha coefficient of 0.64 is considered borderline for internal consistency,
however previous research indicates that the Interpersonal Reactivity Index has a
coefficient alpha of 0.78.
C Age of participants is in years.
d Time volunteering is in months. This statistic only applies to active and inactive
volunteers. The mean, standard deviation and range reported were Windsorized (see
Hypothesis 2 section for a complete explanation). Before Windsorizing, the mean for
length of experience was 17.5 (SD = 36.7) and the range was 2, 242. One participant in
the volunteer group did not indicate the number of months volunteering, thus n = 74.

Frequencies for demographic information, major, enrollment in the Crisis Center

volunteer training, and additional/other training in counseling or crisis intervention are

presented in Table 4-2. A nonequivalent control groups design suggests that statistically

significant differences between the groups may exist. If analyses yield results indicating

that significant differences do exist, then an analysis of covariance would potentially

need to be performed in order to control for the initial differences.

Overall, 26 males and 122 females participated in the study. In the control group,

there were 12 males and 34 females. In the training group, there were four males and 23

females. In the volunteer group, there were 10 males and 65 females. Since there was a

greater number of women participating in the study, a chi square statistic was performed

in order to determine if there was a significant gender difference between the three

groups. There was no significant difference in the proportion of males to females in any

of the three groups (z (2) = 3.4, p = 0.19). In addition, no significant differences in

racial composition existed between the groups (2 (2) = i2.3, p = 0.14). Although

significant differences were found in marital status between the groups (X2 (2) = 29.4,

p < .01), t-tests revealed that marital status did not significantly affect empathy or


The two most frequent participant responses for major were psychology (41.2%)

and not currently a student (22.3%). Counselor Education and Sociology were the next

most frequent responses, with 4.7% and 4.1% respectively. Eighty of the participants

responded that they had been enrolled in the Crisis Center training program, and 60

responded that they had not. All of the 75 participants in the volunteer group marked

"yes" to being enrolled in the training program, and five participants in the training group

marked "yes." It appears that the majority (n = 22) of the participants in the training

program marked "no,"' since they were currently undergoing training when they

responded. The five participants in the training group who marked "yes" may have been

enrolled in (but not completed) a previous training class, or they may have interpreted the

Table 4-2. Frequencies of the Measured Variables

Variable n Percent
Males 26 17.6%
Females 122 82.4%
Marital Status
Single (never married) 117 79.1%
Married 24 16.2%
Divorced 6 4.1%
Remarried 1 0.7%
Caucasian 116 78.4%
Hispanic 12 8.1%
Asian/Pacific Islander 10 6.7%
African American 6 4.1%
Other 4 2.7%
Major a
Not a student 33 22.3%
Psychology 61 41.2%
Counselor Education 7 4.7%
Sociology 6 4.1%
Mental Health Counseling 5 3.4%
Counseling Psychology 4 2.7%
Rehab Services 4 2.7%
Clinical Psychology 3 2.0%
Criminology 3 2.0%
History 2 1.4%
Zoology 2 1.4%
Communication Sciences 2 1.4%
Have you ever been enrolled in the volunteer training program at the ACCC?
Yes 80 54.1%
No 68 45.9%
Have you had additional or other training in counseling or crisis intervention?
Yes 45 30.4%
No 103 69.6%
a Majors listed with a frequency of 1 (0.7%) were English, Pre-med., Entomology, Linguistics,
Telecom News, Public Relations, Political Science, Business, Finance, Nutrition, Religion, Rehab
Counseling, Graduate Sociology, Divinity/Theology, Law School and Social Work.

question as including the training they were currently undergoing. Clearly, none of the

control group participants had been enrolled in the training. In response to the question

about additional training in counseling or crisis intervention, 45 participants marked

"yes" and 103 marked "no."

Since there were pre-existing differences in mean age for the three groups (see

Table 4-3), a univariate F-test was computed for the differences between group means.

The test revealed that the age differences were statistically significant, F (0o5, 2, 145) =

14.7,p < .001. In addition, the mean age difference between each group was statistically

significant (see Table 4-4).

Table 4-3. Mean Ages in the Three Study Groups

Group n Mean Age (years) SD
Control Group 46 20.8 3.9
Training Group 27 25.6 10.2
Volunteer Group 75 29.7 10.3

Table 4-4. Group Differences in Mean Age

Test Mean Difference Confidence Interval p value
Control vs. Training -4.79 -9.0, -0.6 .026*
Control vs. Volunteer -8.93 -12.2, -5.7 .000*
Training vs. Volunteer -4.14 -8.05, -0.23 .038*
Note. = Difference is significant

Hypothesis 1

The first hypothesis of the study was that trained volunteers would exhibit greater

empathy, in the fotbrm of perspective-taking ability and empathic understanding, than

would trainees who have been accepted for volunteer training (but have not completed

training) or upper-level psychology undergraduates with no training in crisis intervention.

Since more than one dependent variable was employed (i.e., both the Interpersonal

Reactivity Index and the Relationship Inventory were used as empathic measures), a one-

way, between participants multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) for unequal n's

was initially proposed as the statistical analysis to be performed. However, once it was

determined that statistically significant mean age differences existed between the three

groups (see Tables 4-3 and 4-4), which essentially means that a portion of the total

variability among the dependent variables' scores was explained by the relationship

between age and empathy, a multivariate analysis of covariance (MANCOVA) was

performed in order to extract the explained variability. This statistical adjustment of a

concomitant variable (age, in this case) allowed comparison between the groups that

could not be equated through the use of random assignment of participants. This

statistical technique also reduces error variance, thereby gaining statistical power.

With MANCOVA controlling for the age differences, an omnibus F-test revealed

that age had no effect, Pillai's Trace F (05, 2, 136) = 0.7,p > 0.4. For each scale, again,

no age differences were found: for the Interpersonal Reactivity Index, F (.05, 1,137) =

0.7,p > 0.4 and for the Relationship Inventory, F(.05, 1,137) = 1.3,p > 0.2. However,

as hypothesized, statistically significant differences (again using an omnibus F-statistic)

in amount of empathy were found between the groups when controlling for age, Pillai's

Trace F(.05,4,274) = 5.8, p < .001. For the Interpersonal Reactivity Index scale, F(.05,

2,137) = 8.2, p < .001; for the Relationship Inventory, F(os, 2,137) = 10.1, p < .001.

Since no age effect was found, the MANOVA results are reported for both scales;

Table 4-5 contains the group means for each scale. On both the Interpersonal Reactivity


Index and the Relationship Inventory, the volunteer group mean was significantly

different from the control group mean and the training group mean (see Table 4-6), but

on the Relationship Inventory, the difference between volunteers and trainees was


Table 4-5. Group Means on the Empathy Measures

Scale and Group Mean SD
Interpersonal Reactivity Index
Control 18.8 4.1
Training 19.8 3.6
Volunteer 21.5 3.1
Relationship Inventory
Control 12.5 9.0
Training 16.3 9.8
Volunteer 20.5 10.1
F(05, 2, 138)




Table 4-6. Group Differences in Empathy

Scale and Test Mean Difference
Interpersonal Reactivity Index
Control vs. Training -3.9
+Control vs. Volunteer* -8.1
+Training vs. Volunteer -4.2
Relationship Inventory
Control vs. Training -1.0
+Control vs. Volunteer* -2.5
+Training vs. Volunteer* -1.7
Note. = predicted differences between these groups
= difference is significant
a Difference is marginally significant

Confidence Interval

-8.5, 0.8
-11.7, -4.4
-8.5, 0.2

-2.7, 0.7
-4.0, -1.3
-3.2, -0.01

p value




Hypothesis 2

The hypothesized inverse relationship between a crisis volunteer's length of experience

and amount of empathy was not obtained. Volunteers' length of experience was

measured by number of months working as a volunteer at the Crisis Center and amount

of empathy was measured using the Interpersonal Reactivity Index and the Relationship

Inventory. In order to correct for extreme values (outliers) in a data set, statistical

methods can be employed to transform the entire data set or to substitute extreme values

with less extreme values. One of these methods is called windsorized statistics. In order

to help eliminate the influence of outlying data points in length of experience that might

skew the results, the variable was windsorized. Windsorizing is a process whereby

extreme data points (or outliers) are set to the highest value (data point) within the cluster

of data points; that is, extreme values in the data set are replaced by the value of a cut-off

criterion (Barnett & Lewis, 1978). Windsorizing comprises a compromise between

eliminating the strong influence of extreme values on the mean while still using all of the

information in the data set. A boxplot was used to determine the outliers in the data set

(see Agresti & Finlay, 1997). Boxplots are essentially charts that summarize the

distribution of a variable by displaying the median, quartiles and outliers. With respect to

the results of the boxplot, there were 19 cases that were determined to be outliers. The

outliers were (in months of experience): 242,204,180,144,132,96,72,60 (n = 4), 55,

54, 52, 50,48 (n = 3), and 47. The next highest value (or case) that was not an outlier

was 42 (months of experience), which became the cut-off criterion. Therefore, when the

19 outliers for the length of experience variable were windsorized, they were all set to 42.

Before windsorizing, the mean length of volunteers' experience was 17.5 months

(SD = 36.7). Results of correlations using the non-windsorized length of experience data


set were not statistically significant. This makes sense in light of the large standard

deviation. After windsorizing, the mean was 11.3 (SD = 15.6). Standard deviation was

more than halved, the mean dropped by 6.2 months of experience, and the correlational

results were significant Correlations between the windsorized length of experience

variable and the two empathy measures are presented in Table 4-7. Age was also

included in the correlational analyses since it was a possible confounding variable.

Table 4-7. Correlations Among Experience, Age and Empathy

Length of Interpersonal Relationship Age
Experience Reactivity Index Inventory
Length of
Experience 1.0
Reactivity Index 0.20* 1.0
Inventory 0.27** 0.52** 1.0
Age 0.61** 0.07 0.06 1.0
*=P<.05. **=p <.01.

Both the Interpersonal Reactivity Index and the Relationship Inventory were

significantly positively associated with length of experience, but they were also

significantly associated with each other. Therefore, a multiple regression was performed,

entering the Interpersonal Reactivity Index and Relationship Inventory simultaneously.

The two empathy measures accounted for 7% of the variability in length of experience

(R = 0.28, adj. R2 = 0.07), and at least one of the scales was associated with length of

experience, F(2, 137) = 5.98,p < .01. When each scale was tested individually,

controlling for the other scale, the following results were found: for the Interpersonal

Reactivity Index scale, t = 1.1, p = .273 and for the Relationship Inventory scale, t = 2.25,

p = .026. Therefore, controlling for the Interpersonal Reactivity Index, the Relationship

Inventory significantly accounts for the variance in length of experience. However,

controlling for the Relationship Inventory, the Interpersonal Reactivity Index does not

account for the variance in length of experience.

Since age was also significantly positively associated with experience, another

simultaneous multiple regression was performed (with the Interpersonal Reactivity Index,

Relationship Inventory and age as the predictor variables in order to control for shared

predictive variance). The three variables accounted for 41% of the variance in length of

experience (R = 0.653, adj. R?2 = 0.41), and at least one of the variables was associated

with length of experience, F(3, 136) = 33.76,p < .001. Controlling for age and the

Interpersonal Reactivity Index, the Relationship Inventory once again accounted for the

variance in length of experience, t = 2.7, p = .008. In addition, age significantly predicted

length of experience, controlling for the two empathy measures, t = 9.1, p = .000. It is

not a surprise that the older a person is, the more experience that person typically has as a

crisis volunteer.

Hypothesis 3

The third hypothesis, that crisis volunteers would exhibit higher levels of altruistic

motivation than upper-level psychology undergraduates (with no crisis training) was not

supported. An independent t-test was performed, with group (volunteers vs. controls)

serving as the independent variable and the Measure of Altruistic Motivation serving as

the dependent variable. A one-way ANOVA was conducted (using the entire sample's

standard deviation) and revealed no differences in altruistic motivation across the three

groups, F (.05,2,145) = 0.756, p> 0.4. The mean scores on the Measure of Altruistic

Motivation for each of the three groups were: control group mean = 5.8 (SD = 4.0),

training group mean = 5.1 (SD = 3.3), and volunteer group mean = 5.0, (SD = 3.2). As

stated earlier, the difference between volunteers and controls on the Measure of Altruistic

Motivation measure was not statistically significant. Consistent with the above findings,

a specific comparison between the mean for the control group and the mean for the

volunteer group revealed that the members of these two groups did not report different

levels of altruistic motivation (mean difference -0.78), CI -0.5,2.1, p=.24. The

frequencies for respondents' choices of the five altruistic reasons were: "a chance to help

others," 108; "to express concern to people in need," 38; "to provide a good experience

for people in need," 28; "to help those less fortunate than I," 20; and "a chance to give of

myself without expecting some sort of'pay-off ," 19. The top egoistic reasons chosen

were: "personal growth," 80; "to acquire new skills, experience," 80; "to gain skills

which will be applicable to other situations," 54; "to develop better human relation

skills," 49; "to help build my resume," 38; "to increase my self-understanding," 33;

"academic internship/experiential learning," 30; "to become more sensitive to others,"

25; and "to use the special talents that I have," 24. Interestingly, the most frequently

chosen reason (which would have been among respondent's top five rankings of reasons

to volunteer) was an altruistic reason: "a chance to help others."

Additional Analyses

As previously stated in the section on descriptive statistics, no gender differences

existed across the three research groups. Since there is, however, a body of literature that

discusses gender differences in empathy and in altruism (e.g., Eisenberg and her

colleagues, 1983, 1989; Feshbach, 1982; Graham & Ickes, 1997; Hoffman, 1977; Lennon

& Eisenberg, 1987; Manstead, 1992; Snodgrass, 1992), a comparison of gender

differences was performed on all three measures. An analysis of these differences was

not indicated by the primary hypotheses, but since it was readily available, a post-hoc

analysis was conducted as a potentially rich source of descriptive research for future

studies. A significant difference was found between males and females on both the

Relationship Inventory and Measure of Altruistic Motivation scales (see Table 4-8).

Table 4-8. Gender Differences on Measures of Empathy and Motivation

Gender Relationship Interpersonal Measure of Altruistic
Inventory Reactivity Index Motivation
Mean SD n Mean SD n Mean SD n
Males 13.3 11.4 25 19.3 3.7 26 3.6 3.1 26
Females 17.9 9.9 116 20.5 3.6 122 5.6 3.5 122
t-statistic -2.1 -1.6 -2.7
p value .04* .07 .008*
Note. = difference is significant


This chapter includes a discussion of the findings for each hypothesis, as well as

the additional findings regarding gender differences. Future research suggestions are also

included, as are limitations of this study. A summary of findings concludes the chapter.

The purpose of this study was to determine whether or not trained crisis center

volunteers would exhibit greater empathy and altruistic motivation than untrained

individuals. In addition, the correlation between crisis center experience and empathy

was also investigated. The literature on the empathic skills of professionals versus

paraprofessionals suggests that lay volunteers are an important and even necessary

component of crisis intervention and suicide prevention agencies. Some studies (e.g.,

Knickerbocker & McGee, 1973. McGee & Jennings, 1973) found that paraprofessionals

are fully capable of becoming genuinely engaged with clients in crisis, and may even

display higher levels of empathy, warmth and genuineness towards these same clients

than professionals. The literature generally suggests that training and experience are both

important components of volunteers' abilities to successfully connect empathically with

clients in crisis (e.g., France, 1975: Hart & King, 1979; Kalafat, Boroto, & France, 1979;

Knickerbocker & McGee, 1973; Miller, Hedrick, & Orlofsky, 1991; Neimeyer &

Pfeiffer; 1994; O'Donnell & George, 1977; Truax & Lister, 1971).

Hypothesis 1

The results support the assertion in the first hypothesis that trained volunteers

would exhibit greater empathy than pre-volunteers or nonvolunteers who have not

undergone training. The results suggest a pattern that is consistent with the assumption

that crisis intervention training can significantly impact levels of empathy, with trained

individuals having the most empathy; however, a causal relationship cannot be drawn

from the current study. The results indicate that trained crisis volunteers are able to

effectively engage with clients in crisis, and suggest that the training and experience they

have undergone may increase their empathic skills. This conclusion lends support for the

use of trained volunteers in crisis intervention agencies. Such a finding seems positive

for those concerned with, or involved in, crisis intervention, since funding, community

support, and other factors affecting a service agency might at least partially rely on the

ability of the agency to demonstrate effectiveness.

The fact that volunteers currently just beginning training were significantly

different from trained volunteers on the Relationship Inventory and marginally

significantly different on the Interpersonal Reactivity Index suggests that training does

have an impact on empathy, although pre-existing group differences could also account

for differences in empathic ability. However, the fact that there was no significant

difference found between volunteers-in-training and a similar control group suggests that

people who volunteer for a crisis intervention agency are not measurably different in

terms of their ability to empathize than those who do not volunteer (i.e., trainees are not a

self-selected group based on their empathic abilities). In addition, out of the original 38

people who began the Fall training, only 23 people completed the training and graduated

to volunteer status: this indicates that not everyone who is interested in becoming a

volunteer is able or willing to complete the training.

It should be noted that the range of participants" scores on the Relationship

Inventory (refer to Table 4-1) included some negative scores (recall that the overall score

range for the Empathic Understanding subscale is -48 to +48). Barrett-Lennard (1986)

points out that while it is true that the majority of scale scores generated from individual

respondents are usually positive, a (sometimes generous) sprinkling of negative scores

within a sample is not unusual, even in client therapist relationships. Barrett-Lennard

states that "there is no absolute meaning to the zero point in the middle of the

theoretical range and significance has not been attributed a priori to any scoring values"

(p. 454). A negative score would most likely imply that a respondent answered "no" to

positive items and/or answered "yes" to negative items, which suggests, with respect to

the current study, that the respondent's general relationships (e.g., interpersonal

relationships that exist outside of the volunteer counseling situation) may be lacking in

empathic understanding.

With the standard scoring method, a scale score of 40 (or higher) would require a

mean response of at least 2.5 (i.e., perhaps by selecting an equal number of+3's and +2's

on positively-worded items and -3's and -2's on negatively-worded items). Barrett-

Lennard (1986) suggests that this score would seem about as high as could plausibly be

expected in terms of honest and discriminating perception. He states that "in practice,

scores above 40 occur but are infrequent" (p. 456). A score of 32 represents an average

item score of 2 (after converting answers on negative items); it implies "clear affirmation

that the referent person was experienced as very substantially empathic" (p.456, italics in

original). Similarly, a scale score of 24 (at the boundary of the third and fourth quartiles

of the theoretical range) suggests that this level of empathy would tend to be adequate in

helping relationships, whereas a score of 16 would be expected to represent a less than

adequate level of therapeutic empathy.

Recall the empathic understanding mean scores for each of the research groups

(from Table 4-5): volunteers = 20.5 (SD = 10.1), trainees = 16.3 (SD = 9.8), and controls

= 12.5 (SD = 9.0). Based on the above assumptions, none of the study groups was

substantially empathic. Volunteers scored at an adequate level of empathic

understanding, whereas trainees' and controls' empathic levels were less than adequate.

Hypothesis 2

The direct relationship between a crisis volunteer's length of experience and

amount of empathy found in the study did not support the second hypothesis, which

projected that an inverse relationship would exist. Previous findings in the literature on

how experience affects empathy are mixed. On the one hand, France (1974), Hart and

King (1979), Neimeyer and Pfeiffer (1994), O'Donnell and George (1977), and Polenz

and Verdi (1977) all found that paraprofessionals can provide better facilitative

conditions with experience and training. As reported earlier, results regarding the first

hypothesis show a pattern consistent with the assertion that training enhances crisis

intervention effectiveness, though a causal relationship cannot be drawn from the current

research. On the other hand, Carkhuff, Kratochvil, and Friel (1968) and Elkins and

Cohen (1982) found that counseling skills did not improve with experience; while

counselors' ability to discriminate facilitative conditions improved with experience, their

actual ability to offer these conditions declined.

With respect to the results regarding the second hypothesis, one cannot

completely surmise how well volunteers are actually able to ojfer empathy to clients,

since observational studies were not conducted in this research. However, based on

volunteers' reports of how well the statements of feelingsireactions in the study describe

them, it can besurmised that their ability to empathically connect with clients is

positively associated with their length of experience.

The positive relationship between length of crisis volunteers' experience and

amount of empathy found in the study indicates that as the length of experience increases

for paraprofessionals trained to work in crisis intervention settings, their empathic skills,

specifically perspective-taking and empathic understanding, increase. This finding

suggests that crisis intervention and suicide prevention agencies might be well-served to

make more attempts to retain their volunteers over extended periods. Gidron (1978)

found that most volunteer "dropping out" occurs during the first six months of volunteer

work. He attributed this to "the negative discrepancies found among short-term

volunteers' concern [with] rewards pertaining to interaction with professional staff'

(p.23). Gidron asserted that short-term volunteers expect training, professional

supervision, consultation opportunities and praise from the staff. Meeting short-term

volunteers' expectations may well provide agencies with more long-term volunteers who,

ultimately, are more effective than those with less experience.

Although this study found a positive relationship between experience and

empathy, the two measures of perspective-taking and empathic understanding were

positively associated with each other, so a simultaneous multiple regression was

performed in order to assess the unique contribution of each empathy measure. Results

of the multiple regression indicated that only the measure of empathic understanding

significantly accounted for the variance in length of experience; that is, volunteers' levels

of empathic understanding were a significant predictor of the number of months they

were likely to volunteer at the crisis center. It should be noted that the relatively low

internal consistency found on the Interpersonal Reactivity Index (Cronbach's alpha

measure) may have impacted the results and the fact that the Interpersonal Reactivity

Index did not significantly account for the variance in length of experience. When both

age and perspective-taking were controlled, empathic understanding still significantly

accounted for the variance in the length of volunteer experience.

Hypothesis 3

The third hypothesis, that crisis center volunteers would have higher levels of

altruistic motivation than the control group, was not supported. The literature regarding

whether or not people volunteer for altruistic reasons or egoistic reasons is sparse. A few

researchers have looked at motivations of volunteers in general (e.g., Clary & Snyder,

1991; Fitch, 1987; Henderson, 1980, 1981, 1985; Sergent & Sedlacek, 1990; Wiehe &

Isenhour, 1977), but fewer still have investigated the motivations of volunteers who work

specifically in crisis intervention settings (e.g., Black & DiNitto, 1994; Clary & Miller,

1986; Clary & Orenstein, 1991). Clary and Orenstein (1991) found a direct relationship

between altruistic motives for volunteering and the length of time spent as a volunteer.

Their finding was not examined in the current study; however, it is interesting to note that

the current study's results indicate that volunteers who work in a crisis intervention

agency do not have significantly higher levels of altruistic motivation. In fact, the

volunteer group had the lowest mean on the Measure of Altruistic Motivation of the three

groups examined.

The volunteer group had significantly higher levels of empathy than the training

or control groups. The literature suggests that there is a positive relationship between

empathy and altruism (e.g., Amato, 1985; Eisenberg et al., 1989; Hoffman, 1976, 1981;

Krebs, 1975; Rushton, 1980), but clearly, the relationship is complex, since the

volunteers in this study (who had relatively high levels of empathy) did not have higher

levels of altruistic motivation.

For all participants, the most frequently ranked reason they would (or do)

volunteer at the Crisis Center was an altruistic reason ("a chance to help others"). The

next four most frequently ranked choices were egoistic reasons, and the fifth most

frequently ranked choice was a tie between an altruistic and an egoistic reason.

Obviously, people volunteer for a variety of reasons, and one can speculate that the

reasons chosen (whether altruistic or egoistic) do not seem to make a difference in the

effectiveness (or the ability to provide empathy) of the volunteer.

Consideration of Gender Differences

Post-hoc analyses regarding gender differences on empathy and motivation

suggested that there was a significant difference between males and females on the

Relationship Inventory and the Measure of Altruistic Motivation, with females displaying

higher levels of both empathic understanding and altruistic motivation. The widely held

stereotype that females are more empathic than males has led to numerous studies of

gender differences in empathy (Lennon & Eisenberg, 1987). Overall, the conclusions of

reviews on gender differences in empathy have been inconsistent, primarily due to the

fact that empathy has been operationalized and measured in a variety of ways.

Eisenberg and Lennon's (1983) meta-analysis of the data from 16 studies found

that females scored higher than males on self-report questionnaire measures of emotional

empathy, with-an effect size of .99! However, they asserted that the demand

characteristics of self-report questionnaires render these findings less than conclusive,

especially in light of much smaller differences or no differences found for other empathy

measures (such as self-report in simulated emotional situations, facial/gestural and

physiological indices). Based on the reviews of the literature regarding gender

differences in empathy, a need for greater conceptual and methodological precision in

future research is evident. Then, perhaps, the meaning of gender differences found in

previous research will be clarified (Lennon & Eisenberg, 1987).

Graham and Ickes (1997) found no reliable gender differences in empathic

accuracy. They suggested that gender differences found in other studies on empathy

may, in fact, be more a matter of motivation than of ability. Males and females may not

differ in their ability to empathize, but their gender-role socialization may provide them

with more or less motivation to do so.

In the current study, the fact that both empathy and altruism were measured by

self-report questionnaires, suggests that, although gender differences were found, further

investigation needs to occur in order to more fully understand the nature of those

differences. Future research should consider both the demand characteristics of the

assessment or measurement device as well as the motivational set within the participants.

Indeed, further clarification of this issue may be gained by investigating empathic

motivation rather than ability.

Study Limitations

Since the study gathered information through the use of paper and pencil tests,

one limitation of the study may have been the willingness and ability of individuals to

respond at all andior respond in an accurate fashion. Participants were not required to

produce responses and instead chose responses already listed on their questionnaire.

Therefore, it is difficult to conclude with complete certainty that their responses during a

crisis call would be similar. Indeed, a pencil and paper test cannot completely reflect a

counselor's ability to paraphrase powerful emotions accurately and at the appropriate

time. Also, the borderline internal consistency of the Interpersonal Reactivity Index (.64

in the current study) may have impacted the results.

In addition, the study used psychology undergraduates as a control group, which

constituted a nonequivalent control groups design. This suggests that pre-existing

differences in attitudes, skills and motivations between the research groups may have

existed. However, since many of the individuals who volunteer for this particular crisis

intervention center were undergraduate psychology students (or others with similar

demographics), the results are still somewhat generalizable. Also, participants in the

study were not randomly assigned to the three study groups; therefore, no conclusions

regarding causal relationships are drawn.

Another limitation of the study was the relatively small sample size. There were

only 27 participants in the training group, compared to 75 participants in the volunteer

group and 46 in the control group. Perhaps the small sample size was one reason that no

significant difference was found between the control group mean and the training group

mean on the Relationship Inventory empathy measure (see Tables 4-5 and 4-6) even

though s significant difference was found between the training group mean and the

volunteer group mean.

In order to keep data collection manageable, only participants from one crisis

intervention center were tested. This study did not include outcome measures of

effectiveness (e.g., caller satisfaction), but it is hoped that results can be used in

conjunction with other outcome findings. Numerous factors go into creating an

"effective" suicide prevention volunteer; this study only examined one of those factors

(empathy) and the motivations behind volunteering in such a critical service area.

Implications for Future Research

The complex relationship between empathy and motivation in volunteers who

provide suicide prevention services could also be investigated; specifically, further study

is warranted to investigate whether or not an interaction between empathy and motivation

exists in these volunteers. In addition, Barrett-Lennard (1981) pointed out that there is

"wide intraindividual variation in empathic accuracy from one instance to another,

occurring even in very similar situations" (p. 99). This suggests that future research on

empathy as a generalized trait or ability would be a potentially important (and complex)

area of study in its own right Indeed, some people do consistently act more generous,

helping and kind than others. Thomas and Fletcher (1997) suggested that although

studies are sparse, there is some evidence that implies "the existence of stable individual

differences in the ability to make accurate empathic judgments, [although] the basis and

nature of such abilities has yet to be determined" (p. 213).

Along these same lines, though there is evidence that empathy is related to

therapeutic outcome (e.g., Orlinski, Grawe, & Parks, 1994; Truax & Carkhuff, 1967), the

empathy studied was viewed as a situation-specific affective or cognitive process (or

experiential) variable experienced by a therapist for the client. However, no research

currently exists regarding the relationship between experiential and dispositional empathy

(Duan & Hill, 1996). Future investigations might focus on how empathic processes

possibly relate to dispositional empathy and therapeutic outcome. Another interesting

avenue of study is expanding the research examining the empathy-altruism hypothesis to

assess whether alternative explanations, such as oneness, can explain findings.

It is not fully clear what processes take place when participants are told to engage

in empathic perspective-taking. Specifically, "it is not known whether role-taking

instructions also trigger the operation of other empathy-related processes, such as... the

use of elaborated cognitive networks" (Davis, 1994, pp. 207-208). Careful assessment

and study of what participants actually do when told to engage in perspective-taking is a

potentially rich source of information that would help clarify this empathy process. In

addition, a deeper understanding of how personal and situational characteristics affect

empathic processes (or even act as mediating variables) is another rich source of

information for future study. For example, previous research has demonstrated that

perspective-taking (or role-taking) is a reliable and accurate measure of empathy;

however, little is known about how a person's disposition or how observer-target

similarity affect that individual's ability to take on the perspective of another, since

studies examining such characteristics have primarily focused on empathy outcomes.

Duan's (2000) conclusion that situation-specific empathic experiences may vary with

situations exemplify this discrepancy between antecedents and processes. Duan suggests

that any research on empathy or empathy-related behaviors should consider the

characteristics of the situation where participants' empathic experiences are measured.

Finally, as noted in the Introduction of this study, the fact that young white

females are the most prevalent users of crisis intervention agencies suggests that research

should be focused on analyzing the factors that are responsible for the reduction of

suicide for this specific group when they use suicide prevention service agencies. It is

interesting to note however, that young white females have overall lower suicide rates

than other groups.


The Empathic Understanding subscale of the Relationship Inventory appears to be

a good measure for empathy in crisis center volunteers. The Perspective-Taking subscale

of the Interpersonal Reactivity Index may also prove to be an accurate measure of

volunteer empathy, provided adequate internal consistency is found. The ability to

demonstrate empathy has been shown to be a necessary component of crisis intervention

counseling. Data indicate significant differences between fully-trained crisis intervention

volunteers and either trainees or nontrained individuals on the examined measures of

empathy. In addition, results of this study indicate that a volunteer's ability to provide

empathic understanding increases with crisis intervention experience. A volunteer's

reasons for choosing to work in a suicide prevention/crisis intervention agency are both

altruistic and egoistic, and volunteers do not have higher levels of altruism compared to


Volunteers and paraprofessionals are often the backbone of crisis and suicide

prevention agencies. This study is consistent with a pattern indicating that training as a

volunteer and experience as a crisis counselor can increase volunteers' abilities to work

with clients, thereby allowing crisis intervention and suicide prevention agencies the

ability to provide more effective services to their community. Since it appears from the

results of this study that volunteers are motivated to work in crisis intervention settings

for both egoistic and altruistic reasons, agencies would be well-served to appeal to both

of these motivations in recruiting and retaining volunteers. In this era of high suicide

rates and increasing demands on crisis intervention/suicide prevention agencies, it seems

imperative that volunteers working in this area be highly trained and supported in ways

that encourage them to remain long-term, only then can we hope stop the trend of

increasing suicide rates.


Principal Investigator: Michelle L. Barz, M.S.

The purpose of this research project is to measure some personal variables, such
as empathy and motivation, related to people's volunteer activities. The goal of this
study is to learn the effect of crisis intervention training and experience on these
variables. If you choose to participate, this study will take approximately 15-20 minutes
of your time and will involve filling out a packet containing three brief questionnaires.
Your participation in this study is entirely voluntary, and you do not have to answer any
question you do not wish to answer.
Alachua County Crisis Center trainees and volunteers, as well as students in a UF
psychology class, will receive a packet during the Fall 2000 semester. No compensation
will be awarded for participation in this study. The study is not designed to benefit you
directly, but it is hoped that it will provide valuable information for improving the
effectiveness of crisis intervention volunteers. This research does not involve any known
risks to you as a participant
All personal information collected as part of this study will be held strictly
confidential to the extent provided by law. Data collected will be coded so that no
identifying information appears on your questionnaire. This signed consent form
(required by the UF Institutional Review Board) will be placed in a sealed envelope and
will not be consulted as part of the study. Results from this study will only be reported in
general terms and will not identify any individuals.
If you have any questions regarding procedure, please contact my supervisor, Dr.
Paul G. Schauble, at the University of Florida Counseling Center, 301 Peabody Hall,
392-1575. If you have any concerns about your rights as a research participant in this

study, please contact UFIRB Office, Box 112250, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL
I, ____________________ (print name) freely volunteer to

participate in the research project described above, conducted by Michelle Barz, a

doctoral student in the Counseling Psychology Program, Department of Psychology, at

the University of Florida. I have been informed in advance what my tasks will be and

what procedures will be followed.

I have read the description above and I understand that I have the right to
withdraw consent and discontinue participation at any time. My signature below may be
taken as my agreement to participate in the study and I acknowledge that I have received
a copy of this description.

Signature___________________ Date

Last 4 digits of Social Security Number


After completing the information sheet below, please carefully read and follow

the directions printed at the top of each of the following three brief questionnaires. Your

responses will be kept confidential and will be reported only in general terms with no

identifying information. Thank you for your participation in this study!

Name (print): ________

Last 4 Digits of Social Security Number: ____

Gender: ______

Marital Status (check one): 1
____ Single (never married)
____ Divorced
____ Separated
______ Widowed
____ Remarried

Age: ______

Race (check one):
____ African American
____ Asian/Pacific Islander
____ Caucasian
____ Native American
___ Other

Country of Origin: ________

If you are a student, what is your major? ________

Have you ever been enrolled in the volunteer training program at the Alachua County Crisis
Center? Yes No

If you are currently a volunteer, or have been one in the past, how long (to the nearest month)
have you volunteered for Alachua County Crisis Center? ________

Have you had additional or other training in counseling or crisis intervention? Yes No
If yes, please describe:


In the space before each question, please write the number 0, 1, 2,3, or 4 to indicate how
you feel using the following scale: 0 (does not describe me well) to 4 (describes me very

1___ Before criticizing somebody, I try to imagine how I would feel if I were in that
person's place.

___ 2. If I'm sure I'm right about something, I don't waste much time listening to
other people's arguments.

___ 3. I sometimes try to understand my friends better by imagining how things look
from their perspective.

___ 4. I believe that there are two sides to every question and I try to look at them

___ 5. I sometimes find it difficult to see things from the other person's point of view.

___ 6. 1 try to look at everybody's side of a disagreement before I make a decision.

___ 7. When I'm upset at someone, I usually try to "put myself in his/her shoes" for a

The following is a list of possible reasons for volunteering at the Alachua County Crisis
Center. As honestly and accurately as possible, please indicate your top five reasons for
volunteering. If you are not a volunteer, indicate the top five reasons you most likely
would have for volunteering at the Alachua County Crisis Center. Place a I before the
item that represents your major reason for volunteering, a 2 before the next most
important reason, and so on until your fifth most important reason.

___ personal growth
___ to acquire new skills, experience
___ a chance to help others
___ to acquire information about career possibilities
___ to use special talents that I have
___ to express concern to people in need
___ to meet new people
___ to increase my self-confidence
___ to "repay" previous use of volunteer services
___ to enhance my self-image
___ academic internship/experiential learning
___ a chance to give of myself without expecting some sort of "pay-off'
___ to learn about some of the social services available in Alachua County
___ to increase my self-understanding
___ to provide a good experience for people in need
___ to help maintain a social service agency
___ to become more sensitive to others
___ to develop better human relations skills
___ to help those less fortunate than I
___ to become a better citizen
___ to gain skills which will be applicable to other situations
___ to have fun and do something constructive at the same time
___ to help build my resume
___ other people (e.g., parents, spouse) want me to do volunteer work
___ my friend (or friends) is (are) volunteering

Please do not write your name on this form. It will be coded anonymously and
your answers used for research purposes only. Below are listed a variety of ways one
person could feel or behave in relation to other people. Please carefully consider each
statement with respect to whether you think it is true or not true about you. Mark each
statement in the space next to the number according to how strongly you feel it is true or
not true. Please mark every one. Write in +3, +2, +1, or -I, -2, -3 to stand for the
following answers:
+3: Yes, I strongly feel that it is true.
+2: Yes, I feel it is true.
+ 1: Yes, I feel that it is probably true, or more true than untrue.
-1: No, I feel that it is probably untrue, or more untrue than true.
-2: No, I feel it is not true.
-3: No, I strongly feel that it is not true.

__I I want to understand how others see things.
___ 2. I understand other people's words but do not know how they actually feel.
___ 3. I nearly always know exactly what others mean.
___ 4. I look at what others do from my own point of view.
___ 5. I usually sense or realize how others are feeling.
___ 6. What others say or do sometimes arouses feelings in me that prevent me from
understanding them.
___ 7. Sometimes I think that others feel a certain way because that's the way I feel
___ 8. I can tell what others mean even when they have difficulty in saying it.
___ 9. I usually understand the whole of what others mean.
10. I ignore some of other people's feelings.
11. I appreciate just how others' experiences feel to them.
12. At times I think that others feel strongly about something and then it turns out
that they don't.


13. At the time I don't realize how touchy or sensitive others are about some of the
things we discuss.
___ 14. I understand others.
15. I often respond to others rather automatically, without taking in what they are
16. When others are hurt or upset I can recognize just how they feel, without
getting upset myself


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Michelle Lee Barz was born January 30, 1967 in Colorado. She graduated from

Pomona (CO) High School in 1985 and then attended Rice University, in Houston,

Texas, on a track scholarship. Michelle received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Rice

University in 1990 with a double major in Psychology and English. She graduated with a

Master of Science degree in Counseling Psychology from the University of Florida in

1994, the same time she was newly pregnant with her first child. Her thesis was entitled,

"The Impact of Math Anxiety on the Behavior of Academically Talented Students,"

Michelle is a part-time faculty member at Metropolitan State College of Denver.
She also teaches relationship and marriage classes, and does leadership training and

development. Michelle currently resides outside of Denver, Colorado with her husband

Stuart and their two children.

1 90

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as a dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.

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as a dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.

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acceptable standards of scholarly presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality,
as a dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.

M. David Miller
Professor of Education Psychology