Teaching Empathy

Teaching Empathy


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 issues is that my clients are primarily focused on their needs and don’t often care how their actions impact those around them. This applies to substance and porn/sex addiction and other issues. Teaching empathy can be very helpful to clients.

Two exercises I use: 1. I ask clients to select a current news story in
which someone is a victim. They have to “be” that victim and write
about their experience during the event described. At first, they do a
pretty awful job, just giving the facts, so usually have to redo their
homework. Eg., someone wrote about being the mother of an infant who
died as a result of her mother using an infant holder that was 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. Well, you get the picture.

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, by the way, 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.

Teaching empathy includes tailoring exercises for each client. As you might see, this is a very integral component to the counseling psychotherapy process.

Call 214-431-2032 to set up an appointment

Bruce W. Cameron M.S., LPC-S Highland Park / Southlake Texas