How to Teach Empathy

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Teaching Empathy to those in Recovery

Persons engaged in addictive and defiant behavior tend to treat parents, family and others as objects. Many of my teen and adult clients struggle with understanding how others might feel in various situations. The main issue is that my clients are primarily focused on their needs. They don’t often care how their actions impact those around them. This applies to substance and porn / sex addiction and other issues.

Exercises for Treating Empathy

  1. I ask clients to select a current news story in which someone is a victim. They have work on the assignment as that victim and write about their experience during the event described.At first, they do a pretty awful job, just giving the facts. They usually have to redo this “homework”.

    For example, someone wrote about being the mother of an infant who
    died as a result of using a faulty infant carrier. The baby carrier had been recently
    in the news for causing infant death. I asked him to think about what
    it might have been like for the woman to have carried that baby inside
    her, to have shared her blood, her oxygen with it. To have lovingly
    patted her pregnant belly and talked to her baby before it was born, to
    have held the baby to her breast and nurtured it. To think about how
    she loved the baby so much that she wanted to keep it close to her, to
    hear her heartbeat and smell her scent, and so purchased this baby
    holder to enhance the experience for her baby. And then the baby died
    as a result of her wanting to provide an ongoing love experience for the
    baby.

  2. This exercise is one where I hand everyone a sheet of pink copy
    paper and ask them to describe the qualities of the woman they love the
    most. Could be a sister, a wife, mother, daughter. Then, after they
    have written all the qualities of that person on the paper, I have them
    wad it up into as tight and compact a ball as they can. They’re pretty
    uncomfortable doing this part, which is a good sign. Then,
    when they can’t compress it into any smaller or tighter ball, I ask them
    to unroll it and straighten it out. To try and get all the wrinkles and
    creases out of the paper. Of course, they can’t get it completely flat
    again. The point is that when someone is sexually assaulted, it can
    affect every aspect of their life and things can never, ever, really be
    quite the same.

I tailor exercises for each client. As you might see, this is a very integral component to the counseling psychotherapy process.

Bruce Cameron is a Licensed therapist with a private practice in Highland Park, and Southlake TX. If you have any questions, please Call 214-431-2032.

BWC