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Empathic Understanding

Empathic understanding is the ability to feel with clients as opposed to feeling for clients. It is the ability to understand feelings, thoughts, ideas, and experiences by viewing them from the client's frame of reference. The counselor or therapist must be able to enter the client's world, understand the myriad aspects that make up that world, and communicate this understanding so that the client perceives that he or she has been heard accurately (Freedberg, 2007; Gatongi, 2008).

Egan (2002) identified both primary and advanced levels of empathic understanding. At the primary level, it is the ability to understand, identify, and communicate feelings and meanings that are at the surface level of the client's disclosures. At the advanced level, it is the ability to understand, identify, and communicate feelings and meanings that are buried, hidden, or beyond the immediate reach of a client. Such feelings and meanings are more often covert rather than overt client expressions.

Personal characteristics or behaviors that enhance a counselor's or therapist's ability to provide empathic understanding include, but are not limited to, the following:

• The knowledge and awareness of one's own values, attitudes, and beliefs and the emotional and behavioral impact they have on one's own life.

• The knowledge and awareness of one's own feelings and emotional response patterns and how they manifest themselves in interactive patterns.

• The knowledge and awareness of one's own life experiences and one's personal reactions to those experiences.

• The capacity and willingness to communicate these personal reactions to one's clients.

Respect and Positive Regard

Respect and positive regard are defined as the belief in each client's innate worth and potential and the ability to communicate this belief in the helping relationship. This belief, once communicated, provides clients with positive reinforcement relative to their innate ability to take responsibility for their own growth, change, goal determination, decision making, and eventual problem solution. It is an empowering process that delivers a message to clients that they are able to take control of their lives and, with facilitative assistance from the counselor or therapist, foster change. Communicating and demonstrating this respect for clients takes many forms. According to Baruth and Robinson (1987), it "is often communicated by what the counselor does not do or say. In other words, by not offering to intervene for someone, one is communicating a belief in the individual's ability to 'do' for himself or herself" (p. 85).

Personal characteristics or behaviors that enhance a counselor's or therapist's ability to provide respect and positive regard include, but are not limited to, the following:

• The capacity to respect oneself.

• The capacity to view oneself as having worth and potential.

• The capacity to model and communicate this positive self-image to clients.

• The capacity to recognize one's own control needs and the ability to use this recognition in a manner that allows clients to direct their own lives.

 
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