Courses reinforce, prepare students with care and compassion

Marjorie S. Miller
January 21, 2016

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Courses can teach students facts and figures, but can a course teach students to be more caring and compassionate? Two courses offered by the College of Health and Human Development aim to do just that by helping students build their understanding of empathy through hands-on experiences and more.

In the Department of Health Policy and Administration, instructor Christina Daley teaches "Health Care and Medical Needs," a long-term care management course that focuses on managing services within the long-term care continuum, such as independent living, assisted living, skilled nursing facilities and community-based services.

“Compassionate care is based on establishing a relationship, one of trust and empathy,” Daley said. “To do so, we need to have an understanding of the patient’s perspective and communicate within that context.”

Students enrolled in the course span of a variety of health disciplines and majors, including nursing, pre-medicine, health policy and administration, biobehavioral health, human development and family studies, and students who are interested in health care but have not yet decided on which profession to pursue.

One course in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies (HDFS) has been helping students develop a foundation for becoming effective helpers and to use specific skills in helping interactions for nearly half a century.

“The Helping Relationship" (HDFS 411) aligns the college’s goal of offering a variety of courses focused on building empathy through skills and experience.

Developed at Penn State by Anthony D’Augelli, professor of human development and family studies, and Steve Danish, professor emeritus of psychology and behavioral health at Virginia Commonwealth University, the course is often cited as a major influence on the personal growth of students.

“When I think of care and compassion, I think it is integrated in every HDFS course,” said Jennifer Crissman Ishler, senior instructor of human development and family studies, who currently teaches HDFS 411. “After all, our major is about helping people lead healthier, happier, more productive lives. 'The Helping Relationship' course highlights those skills because it is a skills-based course — undergraduate students are learning basic counseling skills and techniques.”

The skills acquired in "The Helping Relationship" are essential for students in HDFS, as many graduates will find jobs and careers where they will be directly interacting with children, families and individuals in helping capacities, such as clinical psychology, counseling, social work, rehabilitation, nursing, health education or speech pathology, she said.

“This course can be seen as a significant personal growth experience for students,” Crissman Ishler said. “The use of helping skills in other contexts, such as with friends or relatives, can enhance relationships.”

Last Updated January 21, 2016