• Training in Empathic Communication

    Training in Empathic Communication

    We all know that when a friend, family member, or fellow mental health provider is dealing with a stressful live event and is looking anxious or depressed that it is important for us to show that person some support. It seems almost intuitive that when someone you care about is hurting you should off them some encouragement and ask them if there is anything you can do to help. This common-sense idea is consistent with what we have learned while training to be therapists and it is backed up by thousands of research studies. To make a long story short the fact that social support is correlated with good mental and physical health and serves as a buffer against life stress should make us eager to support our stressed-out friend some support.

    Clinicians who practice couple therapy often encourage couples to practice supportive behavior. What couple therapist hasn’t treated a couple that includes a partner that is oblivious to the suffering of their partner? Therapists trained according to different theoretical models will often have different ways of trying to encourage a partner to communicate support and my behavioral background tells me that communication training is a must. Teach them to communicate and only good things can happen. But is there more we can do? Perhaps a straightforward communication technique that leads to better outcomes than traditional communication training? Is it possible we could teach our patients to be more empathic to the suffering of their partner? The short answer is “Yes!”

    What is empathy?

    According to Kendra Cherry writing in the May 2, 2020 edition of verywellmind.com “empathy is the ability to emotionally understand what other people feel, see things from their point of view, and imagine yourself in their place. Essentially, it is putting yourself in someone else’s position and feeling what they must be feeling.” We will leave it for another version of the R&B Blog to discuss the process of empathy but suffice it to say in this blog that empathy is hard because it induces emotional or physical pain or discomfort. This is because to “feel” what your long-suffering spouse feels you may have to feel some painful emotions. Just how is it that she is angry or depressed. Why is she so reluctant or unable to tell you how she feels? As therapists, we understand that there is a cost of empathy.

    Nevertheless, it is important to be able to teach our clients how to empathically communicate with their partners.

    Empathic listening skills are important because they will help your client to learn how to encourage their partner to share their thoughts and feelings. This will allow the couple to be able to identify their “real problems” so they can consider how to solve them. If each partner has a better understand their partner then that partner can help the other to feel more comfortable with their r relationship. These conversations will allow them to talk more easily about sensitive matters, thus bringing them closer together.

    How does a therapist teach a client to communicate more empathically?

    This will be explained in the next issue of the R&B Blog.

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