Date of Award

Spring 5-14-2021

Level of Access Assigned by Author

Open-Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Interdisciplinary Program


Elizabeth DePoy

Second Committee Member

Stephen Gilson

Third Committee Member

Lynn Gitlow

Additional Committee Members

Leslie Forstadt

Deborah Rooks-Ellis


This study examines concerns within the field of occupational therapy on the growing disconnect between the profession’s roots and espoused beliefs in empathic-centered care, and the modern realities of health care. In particular, the study examined whether the empathy levels of occupational therapy students would change after a course involving the close reading of literary narratives. Close reading of literary narratives has correlated with improved levels of empathy. Empathy is defined as a four-step dynamic process involving Theory of Mind (ToM), emotional resonance, emotional regulation, and empathy as a willful act. Initial study of the proposed curriculum found improved scores on the Jefferson Scale of Empathy (JSE) between pre and post-test class surveys, and no difference between pre and post-test surveys of the

Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test (RMET). The JSE and RMET measures aspects of ToM, emotional resonance and empathic regulation. The outside factors of gender, education, GPA, and novels did not play a consequential role in the findings. Limitations in the study included mid-course changes in the curriculum design due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In particular, the change from in person to a strictly online recorded format. Another limitation was the potential influence of social desirability on student self-reported levels of empathy. Implications of the study are a call for an ongoing dialogue and proposed curriculum to meet occupational therapy’s espoused values within the modern demands of healthcare.