every relationship there are at least two people and each of those people
has many parts to bring to the relationship. We also bring aspects of past relationships
into our present relationships. In Chapter 7 I will reflect on transference and
counter-transference as it impinges on our 'real' relationships in the here-and-now.
In a previous chapter 1 have written about my own therapeutic journey which played
an important part in the formation of myself as a counselor.
My personal journey
and my professional journey are inextricably linked, just as my personal self
and my professional self are inextricably linked. Who I am in the relationship
with my clients is who I am - and whatever is happening in my life cannot be ignored
if I am to be fully present for my clients. That is not to say that my own life
necessarily intrudes upon the work I do with clients. I believe that the more
I am in touch with what might intrude, the less likelihood there is of intrusion.
Kaufman (1996) offers an important guideline:
In my therapeutic
relationships, I share only relevant and appropriate aspects from my own life
that are already resolved, and only for the client's need, never my own. When
a therapist shares current, unresolved conflicts, it burdens the client and misdirects
the flow of the relationship. Therapists need to be emotionally available for
their clients and not the reverse, just as parents need to be freely giving and
genuinely responsive to their children and not the reverse. (Kaufman 1996, p.161)
who is the client - how did they become the person I meet in the relationship?
What developmental factors have influenced how they might relate to me? What do
I need to think about in order to attempt to help them form a therapeutic relationship?
is common agreement among workers in the field that the relationship between the
client and counselor is the most important factor in successful outcomes of counseling.
Over thirty years ago Truax and Carkhuff (1967) described vital elements in any
counseling relationships as accurate empathy, non-possessive warmth and genuineness.
These echoed the earlier work of Carl Rogers (1961) who regarded the 'necessary
and sufficient conditions for therapeutic change' being concerned with helpers
having an attitude of 'unconditional positive regard' towards the client, as well
as the client's perception of the relationship as helpful.
It is therefore not
enough for the counsellor to be empathic, understanding and genuine - the counsellor
also needs to be able to communicate those qualities to the client. For communication
to occur between two people, both 'selves' need to be present. Rogers (1961) quotes
a study based on a behavioural approach in which the therapist 'permits as little
of his own personality to intrude as is humanly possible' (p.47) and he explains
the ineffectiveness of the work being related to that: 'To withhold one's self
as a person and to deal with the other person as an object does not have a high
probability of being helpful' (p.47).
So when a client comes
to tell his story to a counsellor, he needs to feel empathically understood -
to feel that the counsellor is able to imagine something of what it is like to
be living his life and can respond to him with empathy. Empathy is not a psychological
or emotional experience, nor a psychic ability to get inside the mind of another
person, but it is an openness to and respect for the personhood of another (Levasseur
and Vance 1993).
It is a position we adopt in relation to another that stems from
an openness and respect for our own personhood. Frank (1995) quotes a famous passage
written by Albert Schweitzer after a period of illness resulting from his internment
during World War 1: 'Whoever among us has learned through personal experience
what pain and anxiety really are must help to ensure that those out there who
are in physical need obtain the same help that once came to him' (p.35).
is different from identification, which is when we take on the other's pain
as if it were our own. Empathy means that we experience the expressed emotion
as the listener, so that we might accurately understand. In identification those
emotions might burden or bias us, but if we cultivate a capacity for curiosity
and resonance, we are more likely to be remain sufficiently object and reliable
(Halpern 1993). Empathy helps us listen and understand better and therefore enhances
our skills of assessment; empathy allows us to disentangle ourselves from some
of the emotional reactions that might otherwise threaten our helping role.
rarely referred to empathy in his early works - on the contrary he recommended
(Freud 1912) to early psychoanalysts that they should remain 'emotionally cold'
and put aside feelings and even human sympathy. However, by 1955 he was recommending
that empathy was 'the mechanism by means of which we are enabled to take up any
attitude at all towards another mental life' (Freud 1955, p.11 0). Jung accounted
for empathy in terms of projection, when we merge with another and feel their
feelings as though they are our own.
However, other psychoanalytically oriented
therapists began to recognize the healing power of empathy and de-emphasized the
importance of gaining insight and understanding (Kohut 1984). Self-psychologists
began to recognize that clients' suffering was caused by deprivation and by something
going wrong in the course of their development. So the goal of the work became
'mature interdependence' nourished by 'empathic intunement' between the self and
the sustaining aspects of the counsellor (Kramer 1993, p.lT7)
(1975) described empathy as 'entering the private perceptual world of the other
and becoming thoroughly at home in it.. .you lay aside the views and values you
hold for yourself in order to enter another's world without prejudice. In some
senses it means you lay aside yourself' (p.2). My view is that we do not lay aside
our 'selves', but rather that we have sufficient self-awareness that we can recognize
that which belongs to us and that which belongs to the client - thus being able
freely to enter into the client's experience without the threat of over-identification.
empathy may have its darker side. There may be an appealing, even an addictive
quality about intimate attunement with another person (Kramer 1993). This allure
often draws people into the helping role whose earlier life experiences have trained
them in the ability to a sensitive attunement to underlying cues (I recognize
myself in this description). Clients and colleagues alike often describe how,
at an early age, they developed the ability to sense atmospheres or moods before
they were made explicit.
This heightened awareness of things not yet spoken, or
even known by the other, may create situations where we might cause excessive
discomfort to clients who are not yet ready to know what we may have perceived,
or made known to them, in an empathic response. Clients' defense mechanisms may
be over-ridden too quickly, causing them to be flooded with exposed negative feelings
(Modell 1986). However, we can recognize well-used empathy by the client's response
- it may elicit new material for the work and allow the unfolding of deeper levels
Empathy may not always be soothing; sometimes the client will
benefit from the challenge and stimulation such responses can evoke, when the
challenge is balanced with caring.
- Etherington, Kim, Narrative Approaches
to Working with Adult Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse, Jessica Kingsley Publishers
Reflection Exercise Explanation
Goal of this Home Study Course is to create a learning experience that enhances
your clinical skills. We encourage you to discuss the Personal Reflection
Journaling Activities, found at the end of each Section, with your colleagues.
Thus, you are provided with an opportunity for a Group Discussion experience.
Case Study examples might include: family background, socio-economic status, education,
occupation, social/emotional issues, legal/financial issues, death/dying/health,
home management, parenting, etc. as you deem appropriate. A Case Study is to be
approximately 250 words in length. However, since the content of these Personal
Reflection Journaling Exercises is intended for your future reference, they
may contain confidential information and are to be applied as a work in
progress. You will not
be required to provide us with these Journaling Activities.
Reflection Exercise #1
The preceding section contained information
about empathy in the therapeutic relationship. Write three case study examples
regarding how you might use the content of this section in your practice.
What is the darker side of empathy in the therapeutic relationship?
Record the letter of the correct answer the