019 – Counselling Academic Books – Theory of Empathy

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In episode 19 of the Counselling Tutor Podcast, Rory Lees-Oakes and Ken Kelly talk about the Saturday Book Club, and how to read academic books. ‘Theory with Rory’ looks at empathy, while ‘Person-Centred Business’ covers how to request and take payment from clients in private practice. Finally, the presenters discuss the importance of insurance.

Reading Academic Counselling Books

In the Saturday Book Club on the Counselling Tutor Facebook group – which now has nearly 3,000 members – Rory reviews useful text books in plain English. Various publishers have recently donated copies of key books, which members will have the chance to win in competitions.

Rory and Ken give two top tips for reading academic books:

  • Don’t try to read these books from start to finish; this can be overwhelming. Start at the index, looking up the specific topic you are studying, and then dip in to read the relevant parts.
  • Map out where the important information is within the books, for example using sticky notes and highlighter pens. Do not be afraid to write in your books, if that is helpful to you.

Theory of Empathy in Counselling

Episode 5 of the Counselling Tutor Podcast covered empathy as a skill; now, Rory looks at the theory of empathy.

The term ‘empathy’, applied to counselling and psychotherapy, refers to being in the client’s frame of reference, experiencing the world as they see and feel it. The word is derived from:

  • the Greek pathos, meaning ‘emotion’, ‘feeling’, ‘suffering’ or ‘pity’
  • the German Einfühlung, meaning ‘into feeling’ or ‘in feeling’, coined by the German philosopher Robert Wischer in his doctoral thesis in 1873 to describe the human capacity to enter into the emotional content of art and literature.

British psychologist Edward Bradford Titchener first translated Einfühlung into English – as ‘empathy’ – in 1909. Since then, there have been many attempts to define this concept. Particularly well-known is the work of Carl Rogers, who wrote a paper for the Journal of Consulting Psychology in 1957 entitled ‘The Necessary and Sufficient Conditions of Therapeutic Personality Change’. He describes ‘empathy’ as follows (1957, p. 98):

‘To sense the client's private world as if it were your own, but without ever losing the “as if” quality – this is empathy, and this seems essential to therapy. To sense the client's anger, fear, or confusion as if it were your own, yet without your own anger, fear, or confusion getting bound up in it, is the condition we are endeavoring to describe.’

Empathy was also a key focus of the work of US psychologists Charles Truax and Robert Carkhuff, who created the Empathy Scale, available as a free download in Counselling Tutor Podcast episode 8.

Rory explains the four types of empathy: affective, cognitive, receptive and expressed. Empathy has been written about in detail by Dave Mearns and Mick Cooper in their book, Working at Relational Depth in Counselling and Psychotherapy (see ‘Links and Resources’). These authors (2005, p. xii) define ‘relational depth’ as ‘a state of profound contact and engagement between two people, in which each person is fully real with the Other, and able to understand and value the Other’s experiences at a high level’.

Neuroscientific perspectives on empathy have examined brain structure in relation to empathy, with members of the Max Planck Institute identifying the right supramarginal gyrus as key, and mirror neurones also playing an important role.

Regardless of the scientific explanation for empathy, the human experience of being heard, understood and validated is one of the greatest gifts that one person can give another.

Requesting and Taking Payment

It can feel difficult to ask clients for payment, especially if you have been accustomed to working without charge (e.g. on placement). The client may have shared heavy, personal material, and it can feel strange to turn then to the topic of money. Key tips include:

  • Remember that this arrangement has already been made clear in contracting – so the client is expecting to pay.
  • Ask yourself what makes you feel uncomfortable about it; some self-development work may be needed here.
  • Prepare an invoice or receipt in advance and put it in an envelope with the client’s name on; handing this to them at the session end will serve as a payment reminder.
  • Offer people ways to pay other than just cash, including payment in advance. Although it is expensive and complicated to register for a merchant account (so you can take card payments directly), PayPal and Stripe both offer cost-effective alternatives for small businesses.

Insurance for Student Counsellors

The new Ethical Framework for the Counselling Professions (BACP, 2016, p. 6) requires: ‘We will be covered by adequate insurance when providing services directly or indirectly to the public.’

Rory and Ken underline the importance of:

  • taking out your own insurance (even if covered by your agency’s policy), to protect yourself
  • shopping around to find the best deal
  • reading your policy carefully, especially if you work with children
  • seeing your insurer as a source of valuable professional support and advice.

Links and Resources