Interpersonal communication is essential for effective counseling and conquering patient goals success. Building trusting relationships with a client is a counselor’s priority that allows for further implementation of strategies, therapies, and specially designed interventions. Throughout this semester, I found that empathy was the most helpful skill in professional counseling in general, particularly in alcoholic and drug dependency treatment. The intersection of my personal and educational experience allows me to justify the significant role of empathy in counseling. Being active in Recovery, drugs, and alcohol, and with personal aspirations to pursue addiction counseling as a profession, I am aware of the difficulty of the process and the challenges one faces when supporting sobriety and dealing with mental health difficulties in the aftermath. One challenge I experienced and what led me to outside counsel, was being newly sober. I lacked the ability or knowledge to survive with such feelings and emotions that I unknowingly suppressed in active addiction. I had no coping skills to live a productive life in society. Furthermore, it is vital to lean toward the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous in addition to outside counseling to address circumstances in Recovery.
Empathy is a multifaceted skill that requires a counselor’s competence and the ability to reflect on one’s feelings. According to Hackney and Bernard (2017), empathy occurs when “the therapist senses accurately what the client is experiencing and communicates this acceptant understanding to the client” (p. 56). A counselor shows the expressed meanings a client communicates and decodes the implied meanings that encourage the client’s involvement. Empathy can be offered through verbal and nonverbal communication means, such as active listening; when the client successfully and respectfully perceives the signals, they are understood (Doyle, 2020). Consequently, empathy is ubiquitous in counseling and, when used properly, can become a prized asset in achieving multiple client goals. The ability to use this skill supplies a stable source of patient comfort, and enhanced self-disclosure and reflection are paramount.
Application of Empathy in Practice
Given the complexity of empathy as a skill, its application to practice requires theoretical knowledge and professional skills in both expressing and naming emotions and feelings. Applying your subjective experiences is vital because it allows you to connect with a patient on a deeper level by bestowing sincere feedback and support. To apply this skill, one should differentiate between the levels of communication. According to Hackney and Bernard (2017), to be an empathic therapist, a professional must interact with a patient at two levels introduced to Welch and Gonzalez’s counseling research. Firstly, one must understand the narrative delivered by a client; secondly, it is essential to understand the meaning encoded in the narrative.
The demonstration could manifest through active listening elements, such as demonstrating concern, paraphrasing, or exemplifying a similar experience (Doyle, 2020). Moreover, through research in the counseling theory, two stages of empathy have been found: primary empathy and advanced empathy (Hackney & Bernard, 2017). While the preliminary stage requires understanding feelings communicated explicitly, the advanced one involves reflecting on the implied meanings, which is key to building effective therapist-client relationships. It is of significant relevance to recovery therapy, where the support and feeling of being understood help a patient persists in achieving results and remaining committed to treatment. For example, in alcohol dependence therapy, completing the basic twelve steps of Alcoholic Anonymous is insufficient without competent professional support, which will only be effective through empathic interventions (“The 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous,” n. d.). Therefore, empathy is the utmost domineering professional skill for counselors because it serves as a basis for client engagement, effective interventions, and healing goal achievement through self-disclosure and trusting client-therapist relationships.
Doyle, A. (2020). Important active listening skills and techniques. The Ballance Careers. Web.
Hackney, H. L., & Bernard, J. M. (2017). The professional counselor: A process guide for helping (8th ed.). Pearson.
The 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. (n. d.). 2020, Web.