Getting emotionally involved or keeping the distance?

Postby Odeena » Tue Oct 23, 2007 7:33 am

I'm thinking about studying Psychology starting next year, and eventually becoming a therapist. However, there's one question that's been bothering me. I've heard lots of people saying that the biggest mistake you can do as a therapist is getting emotionally involved with your patients. Still, if you can't show at least a little empathy, how are you supposed to help your patients?

I'm a very impressionable person, so I wonder if I could ever do it right... if there is such a thing as 'doing it right'.

Any answers appreciated.
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Postby Sluagh » Wed Oct 24, 2007 6:32 am

My tutor told me about the anchor once. And the diffrence betqween empathy and sympathy. As a counsellor one of my feet has to be anchored in the ground. This anchor develops when going to personal therapy, having supervision, having a contract (boundaries) etc.
All those facts help the counsellor to stay grounded and oin the here and now.
So they are able to lift the other foot up and step into the world of the client to experience the world how the client would experience it, but still bbeing anchored.
That keeps the counsellor safe but also the client. As now the counsellor is still keeping the emotional gap enough to be in the here and now.
For someone whose anchor gets lose (by not having supervision, personal therapy, boundaries etc) this empathy (trying to feel and see the world how the other person is experiencing it) turns into sympathy and in some cases even worse - the counsellor takes on the board the feelings of a client and makes them her own. For example say a client who was abused in childhood, suddenly experienences the fear and terror of his/her past. In countertransference and if the cousnellor is not aware of it, the client can start to feel very very dangerous for the counsellor and the counsellor becomes fearful of the client. What happend is that the counslelor experienced, in his counter transference, the terror and fear the client felt when a child, and instead of working with those feelings and bringing them back into the room, the counslelor believes the client has become dangerous.

A very nice way my tutors discribed the diffrence between emapthy and sympathy is this:
When a client comes into the room they bring a lot of bagadge with them and put it right in the middle of the room.
Sympathy would be to pick up those bags and take them with me, empathy is to leave them there lol
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Postby jurplesman » Thu Oct 25, 2007 4:49 am

When people become "emotionally involved" with their client is often happens that they share an emotional problem that has not been resolved. If a counsellor has a trait of "anti-authoritarionism" and a client has problems handling his boss because of is "antiauthoritarianism" then it may be difficult for a counsellor to help his client handling his boss.

The difference is between empathy and sympathy, which has been explained in the

Counselling Communication Course.

It is difficult for a counsellor to empathy with a client if a counsellor has never experienced a similar emotional experience. On the other hand when a counsellor has not undergone therapy, he/she may fall into the trap of a sympathetic relationship that sometime can be damaging to both client and therapist. Neither has an appropriate answer to a problem, they share. Counselling often implies a confrontation of different ideas that helps to solve a problem.

Sluagh's analogy of having two anchors - one firmly planted in the ground and the other in the air - is quite appropriate. In TA we used to say that one part of our mind should remain in the ADULT ego state and the other in the emotional states of either PARENT or CHILD. This comes to the same thing.

When you work in a "counselling" organisation, you will have ample opportunities to discuss your problems with other fellow counsellors. When you are being trained you will have or in a position to choose a supervisor who can help you with these kinds of problems.

Counsellors have to do a lot of work on themselves, but good counselling is never painful. The ah ah experience can be quite exhilarating.

Enjoy your counselling training course.
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Postby Odeena » Fri Nov 09, 2007 12:17 pm

Thank you both for replying and sorry this post comes so late ~ 'been caught up with university admission procedures :(

@Sluagh: I see your point. I think I sort of overreacted to the possiblity of taking on each and every one of my future patients' problems, as the bipolar / depressed etc. people I've dealt with so far were all very close to me and there was no way for me *not* to get emotionally involved :) I think I can apply that principle and keep my cool when I'll be dealing with other people.

@jurplesman: Thank you! I've printed the course and plan to read it thoroughly as soon as this whole 'pick-your-university' thing is through and over with. I've skimmed through it though, and it looks quite interesting.

I have no idea how counsellor training goes [especially here in Japan], but I suppose it couldn't be *too* different from other parts of the world. Knowing that I might have someone to supervise me at first and point it out when my emotions might get out of hand is reassuring [even though that's just a possibility for now].
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