Empathy

"It takes a great [wo]man to make a good listener."

-Arthur Helps

For me, training to become an art therapist has been a difficult but rewarding journey.

Although I only started my grad school program three weeks ago, I already feel like I have a new lens to look at myself. This is partly due to our focus on empathy, which is a skill and a foundational pillar of all therapeutic practices.


As a naturally empathetic person, I thought I understood it clearly. But our lessons have shifted my own perspectives and beliefs on empathy.


Empathy is not an unconditional endorsement of someone's beliefs, values, or thoughts. When we work with clients whose views differ from our own, we use empathy to understand how they arrived at this perspective, and what life events shaped their internal narrative. However, we do not need to adopt it ourselves. We can disagree with a client's belief, and still extend them our empathy.


Empathy is not giving advice or solutions. When we hear something painful coming from a loved one, we may seek to minimize our own discomfort by offering our take on the situation. However well intended, this is a self-serving action that may prevent our friend from attempting to share their feelings again.


Empathy doesn't start with at least..., chin up, get it together, get over it...


Empathy is creating a space for people to feel heard. To extend compassion and nonjudgmental presence. In the Brené Brown video, this is when the bear crawls down in the deep, dark hole, telling the fox, "I know what it's like down here. You're not alone."

Perhaps the most important part of empathy is wordless. It's the feeling we give other people when we are able to sit in quiet acknowledgment of their suffering. It's an embodiment of the phrase, "I don't even know what to say right now, I'm just glad you told me."

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© MADELEINE MEREDITH 2020.