What is empathy?
Empathy has been described in different ways, such as walking in another's shoes and entering into another person's frame of reference.
It can also be the ability to experience life as the other person does by entering into the person's world of thoughts, feelings, emotions and meanings.
What is empathy?
In counselling, empathy is an expression of the regard and respect the counsellor holds for the client whose experiences may be 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 they can bring. The ability to empathise with another is enhanced by an alert attentiveness to facial expressions, body language, gestures, intuition, silences and so on.
What is the difference between empathy and sympathy?
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-centered 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, it is only when you can really be open, clear, sensitive to the emotions and feelings of the other than authentic care begins.