Empathy. It’s one of the first things therapists learn when they train to become therapists.
An empathic relationship puts your needs first, builds report, earns trust. Empathy contributes to my clinical responsibility to “be of service,” “do no harm.” An appropriate balance of empathy, boundaries, and aid separates my role from that of a friend, mother, teacher, or outsider. As a student, I learned to listen actively. Demonstrate my knowledge and understanding fully. Advocate on your behalf.
It wasn’t until I began practicing (not interning, not studying, not observing… not making coffee, not making copies, not filing…) did I realize the importance of empathy in effectively interfacing with people.
I enjoy being a therapist. (I’m an art therapist and a counselor at Sanford House.) I enjoy encouraging folks to navigate a healthy future. I genuinely enjoy going into work and learning, growing, honing my craft. I also enjoy my clients. I care deeply for your successes, and feel deeply when you come to me with hopelessness.
At Sanford House, our residents are vulnerable. Strong. Insightful. They demonstrate again and again (and again and again) the ability to overcome injustices and build new beginnings that are sober, dynamic, healthy, and whole-hearted.
I was drawn to this field because I have a passion for human behavior and a fierce motivation to provoke change in your community. I like to listen, I like to watch, and I like to strengthen my intuition around who needs what and why. On many occasions, however, I have found myself absolutely filled with compassion, inspiration, and warmth on your behalf. And felt those feelings spill over and around me as I transitioned back into the “real world.” Outside of the workplace. Where I am not a therapist but am a friend, daughter, teacher, and outsider.
Relating empathically with you has helped me better relate to the world. And although I don’t believe therapists are absolutely better listeners, advice-givers, or observers than non-therapists, I know that practicing empathy on a daily basis has encouraged me to use it in other contexts.
Yesterday a family of 5 jumped the check-out line at Meijer. Mom was toting two little ones, diapered and screaming; and two teens, jaded and cool. Their family, so busy and full of so many different needs, was overwhelming just to be beside. I had two options:
1. Place myself in Mom's shoes... Exercise empathy for this woman and her 4 active, overstimulated family members.
2. Argue, snarl, roll my eyes... Refuse to access any empathy for Mom's family or her situation. Ignore the privileges I held in that moment and think only about how I was inconvenienced.
It is easier to try to understand than hold onto anger.
So to my clients, and to all people working towards healthy change in recovery, I say: thank you. Thank you for the opportunity to grow alongside you. Thank you for your dedication to improve, your work in and outside of the session room. I appreciate your vulnerable moments, your celebrations, your openness when things don’t work out. Even on your dark days, overcome with listlessness and frustrations, you are seen. And I am moved by your willingness.
Thank you for inviting me on this journey with you.