Carkhuff and Truax Empathy Scale

The following information comes from Direct Social Work Practice: Theory and Skills by Hepworth, Rooney and Rooney (2009); it provides a roadmap to judge your responses based on a 5-point scale similar to the one used by Truax and Carkhuff (1967).

Empathic Responding Scale

Level 1: Low Level of Empathic Responding

  • Communicating little or no awareness or understanding of the caller’s feelings
  • Responses are irrelevant or abrasive
  • Changing the subject, giving advice, etc.

Level 2: Moderately Low Level of Empathic Responding

  • Responding to the surface message of the caller but omitting feelings or factual aspects of the message.
  • Inappropriately qualifying feelings (e.g.,“somewhat,” “a little bit,”“kind of”)
  • Inaccurately interpreting feelings (e.g., “angry”for “hurt,”“tense”for “scared”).

Level 2 responses are only partially accurate, but they show an effort to understand

Level 3: Interchangeable or Reciprocal Level of Empathic Responding

  • Verbal and nonverbal responses at level 3 show understanding and are essentially interchangeable with the client’s obvious expressions, accurately reflecting the client’s story and surface feelings or state of being

Level 4: Moderately High Level of Empathic Responding

  • Somewhat additive, accurately identifying the client’s implicit underlying feelings and/or aspects of the problem.
  • Volunteer’s response illuminates subtle or veiled facets of the client’s message, enabling the client to get in touch with somewhat deeper feelings and unexplored meanings and purposes of behavior.
  • Level 4 responses thus are aimed at enhancing self-awareness.

Level 5: High Level of Empathic Responding

  • Reflecting each emotional nuance, and using voice and intensity of expressions finely attuned to the client’s moment-by-moment experiencing, the volunteer accurately responds to the full range and intensity of both surface and underlying feelings and meanings
  • Volunteer may connect current feelings and experiencing to previously expressed experiences or feelings, or may accurately identify implicit patterns, themes, or purposes.
  • Responses may also identify implicit goals embodied in the client’s message, which point out a promising direction for personal growth and pave the way for action.
  • Responding empathically at this high level facilitates the client’s exploration of feelings and problems in much greater breadth and depth than responding at lower level


Hepworth, D., & Larsen, J. (1993). Direct social work practice: Theory and skills (4th ed.). Pacific Grove, Calif.: Brooks/Cole.

Truax, C., & Carkhuff, R. (1967). Toward effective counseling and psychotherapy: Training and practice

Cite this article as: MacDonald, D.K., (2015), "Carkhuff and Truax Empathy Scale," retrieved on March 23, 2018 from

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5 thoughts on “Carkhuff and Truax Empathy Scale

  1. Hi! My name is Miss Nikki Orquia, I am currently doing my thesis proposal entitled” Level of Empathy among health center nurses in Doha, Qatar. I just want to ask if i can use the CARKHUFF AND TRUAX EMPATHY SCALE on my study? How and where I can find the scale? Thank you

  2. Hi,
    I’m writing a thesis about evaluating empathy with session’s registration.
    I would know if i can use this 5-point scale or you can suggest another instrument.

    Thank you very much,


    Edoardo Aldrigo

    1. Hi Edoardo,

      This scale can absolutely be used to evaluate empathy. You would need to make sure that you check the inter-rater reliability of the people you have coding for this scale, to make sure all your coders are scoring samples the same way.

      Depending on what your thesis topic is, you might find a tool like Davis’s Interreactivity Index helpful to measure an individaul’s level of empathy over time, rather than specific empathic responses.


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