Dr. Nicole Monteiro
As a psychologist, educator and mentor, I have found over the years that empathy is one of the most underrated - but potent - therapeutic interventions used in helping professions. It is one of the most powerful antidotes to the helplessness, hopelessness and despair that the people we are charged with helping bring to our offices and healing spaces.
In this age of evidence-based therapy approaches, it can seem anachronistic to focus on the relationship between therapist and client as one of - or perhaps the - most important factors that contributes to healing. I have often observed that many beginning therapists find it hard to accept that their empathy and complete presence are as important as any advanced counseling technique that they learned in school.
Science backs this up. There is an extensive and growing body of research on the function of mirror neurons, the biology of attachment, and the connection between emotions and cognitions, which points to the essential value of relating to another human being genuinely, authentically and empathically. We all have the human need to RELATE and to be RELATED TO.
Demonstrating empathy is a skill that many therapists have honed through their education and training. But empathy is a basic part of caring relationships that all of us have the capacity to give and receive. Recognizing and practicing everyday empathy is a simple way to deepen our connection to others, ourselves and our higher purpose. Empathy is what makes others more human to us and even makes us more human to ourselves.
When you try to see yourself in your family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, passing stranger or other random encounters you help to counter some of the more dangerous human instincts, such as aggression, violence and self-destruction. These negative instincts are often triggered by the need to protect ourselves from others we perceive as dangerous because they are foreign, unlike us or outside of our tribe or group. The problem is these perceptions are often inaccurate and stem from cognitive biases and other psychological distortions. Empathy is one step toward being able to blur the line between us and them and envision our common experiences and fate.
Everyday empathy can be practiced and refined in multiple ways. This short list includes small steps we can all take to develop greater empathy for others and compassion for ourselves.
Let me know how you've experienced and practiced empathy in your everyday life.