What is Empathy?
Written by: Gherardo Della Marta registered BACP counsellor
Empathy has been described in different ways: walking in another's shoes, entering into another person's frame of reference or having the ability to experience life as the other person does by entering the person's world of thoughts, feelings, emotions and meanings.
In counselling, empathy is an expression of the regard and respect the counsellor holds for the client whose experiences maybe quite different from that of the counsellor.
The client needs to feel "held", understood as well as respected. To hold a client therapeutically means the counsellor is capable to accept and support the client through any issues, concerns, problems she/he can brings.
The ability to empathize with another is enhanced by an alert attentiveness to facial expressions, body language, gestures, intuition, silences and so on.
Sympathy on the other hand is not empathy. Sympathy is feeling sorry for someone. It is to create sorrow in oneself in response to the perceived sense of another.
When we feel sympathy for someone we might view them with pity. While pity makes a victim of the sufferer, empathy empowers them: "i have a sense of your world, you are not alone, we will go through this together".
Carl Rogers(1969), the founder of person centred counselling, concluded that the important elements of empathy are:
-the therapist understands the client's feelings
-the therapist's responses reflects the client's mood and the content of what has been said
-the therapist' tone of voice conveys the ability to share the client's feelings.
Finally is only when you can really be open, clear, sensitive to the emotions and feelings of the other than authentic care begins.