Counselling: Being Empathically Understood

This is a learning journal produced as part of my counselling course.

In this learning journal I am going to discuss how it feels to be listened to and empathically understood as opposed to being given advice.

Rogers defined empathy as:

“an accurate, empathic understanding of the client’s world as seen from the inside. To sense the client’s private world as if it were your eyes, but without releasing the ‘as if’ quality – this is empathy.”

My experience of this frequently occurs throughout my own personal counselling. It is an amazing, almost indescribable feeling. It is more than just empathy and it is more than just being understood, especially when it is also accompanied by active listening that comprises no advice giving. By this, I mean that the experience of being listened to and empathically understood is also about empowerment and providing the client with unconditional positive regard in a safe environment in which they can explore their own thoughts and feelings as well as reach their own solutions. This is at least how I feel within my own counselling experience.

At first, being provided with this safe and all-accepting environment can seem somewhat strange and unnerving. It is only over time that I realised this feeling is based on unfamiliarity. It is so rare to receive empathic understanding and active listening without advice giving in our everyday lives. They are skills that not everyone builds upon, but which could really strengthen relationships of all kinds.

On reflection, I think the initial discomfort from this experience comes from fear, at least in my case. Fear of what to do with the gift of empathic understanding – as that is what it is – a precious gift. Fear of what to do with this gift when it is offered, as well as fear of being empowered to make one’s own decisions has also been present in my own experience. For me, it has taken me a long time to gain any belief in my ability to guide my life. It is only through my experience in counselling of empathic understanding that I have been able to gain trust in my own ability within the safety of an environment that nurtures such self-growth.

To be given advice is not always the helping hand that we might believe it is. Indeed, in some cases it can act to disempower people as they can become reliant on other people.

I have learnt through my experience that advice giving is rather overrated and not always the kindest of acts we might like to think it is.

I feel that it is important to experience empathic understanding in order to be able to provide it, which I always endeavour to do throughout skills practice. By this, I don’t mean that I make a special effort to provide empathic understanding, as I don’t feel it is something you can force. On the other hand, I can increase its presence through active listening and not giving advice.  These conditions work together to allow empathic understanding into the counselling relationship in a pure and genuine form.




Categories: Counselling, Personal/Professional Development

Tags: , , , , , ,

1 reply

  1. Fascinating post Nicola, when someone listens without giving their opinion, it’s an enormous relief for an anxious client. As you say, in everyday life, everybody has the answer to everything, which is often not useful….

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