What is empathy in therapy? Why is empathy at the core of a counselling relationship?
The word “empathy” is often used to describe the ability to identify with another and to sense other people’s emotions, to be able to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling.
Many of us have experienced this in our day-to-day life, a sort of connection with some people when almost instantly we feel at ease, comfortable in their presence, able to express our views and thoughts naturally. It is often difficult to put it into words what happens, but they just “get” us and what we mean!
In the therapeutic environment, this works very similarly. We might have a specific issue we want to address and while looking for the “right therapist”, we look for someone able to accept and recognise our feelings. Someone able to support us with the ability to explain these emotions for and to us, translating them and making them clearer, without judgment. It’s almost like looking for someone who can listen to our deepest secrets and difficulties without making us feel there is “something wrong with us”, but also someone who can keep an objective view to help us seeing that issue from a different perspective.
The therapist ability to listen at this level and being able to hold that space for us is at the core of the therapeutic relationship to start. However, for the relationship to grow week after week the responsibility is in both hands, client and counsellor. Working together with openness, curiosity and commitment are the key to the therapy journey.