Authentic empathy

June 6, 2006

I left a comment over at Johnnie’s blog about empathy.  It’s a fairly essential element of a psychotherapist’s toolkit and there is much writing to substantiate the position that regardless of orientation, a therapist’s ability to empathise with a client is a key factor in the success of the working alliance.
Johnnie’s take on it is interesting

I think empathy is what gets left out of many narratives about how change happens

In business I see an enormous anxiety about being empathic because there can be an assumption that to be empathic means I have to experience the other’s pain and if I do that then I will become as incapacitated as they are – out of control. It’s a false assumption of course and it inevitably leads to the insincere empathy where everyone is “understanding” of everyone else’s pain. The false empathy then becomes a defence against our own feelings and ultimately destroys any chance of an authentic encounter.  If we can’t walk in someone else’s shoes for a moment and try and understand what their world view is – then change or any kind of difference becomes academic and not authentic.