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Empathy vs. Compassion


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As I write this I am ten weeks in of my thirty-three-week practicum program. I have a long way to go still for my practicum experience.  Nonetheless, my learning does not end after the end of my practicum. Becoming a mental health professional is a life-long journey.  New techniques and approaches are constantly becoming available.  I have to keep myself apprised at all times to maintain and improve my competency.  As such, I am continually learning from my personal experience, from my interaction with the clients, from workshops, and from other professionals in the field. Continuous learning is the hallmark of being a mental health professional.

Over the weekend, I attended the Distress Centre’s annual conference. This year the topic was about helping individuals who are in distress or crisis, harming themselves, and victims of abuse. The Distress Centre is a crisis line that provides support to anyone in crisis or simply to be there to anyone who wants to share his or her day with someone. The conference was a full day of learning and connecting with my fellow volunteers on the telephone crisis line.  In this conference, I have gained new insights and new techniques that I can apply not just on the telephone line, but in my practice as well.

Over the years, I have learned that empathy is paramount in the therapeutic process. According to Young (2017), empathy is being able to acknowledge and respect the other person’s feelings or worldview, having a nonjudgmental stance in order to provide a safe environment for the client and build rapport.  At the conference, I learned that another important factor in the therapeutic process is to have compassion towards the client.  I have always known that being compassionate towards others is important.  During the conference, I learned another way of looking at compassion in the therapeutic setting.  Compassion has become an active ingredient in therapeutic process.  Compassion is not better than empathy rather another component that makes the therapeutic process more effective.  Compassion does not just understand the person’s pain, but the clinician knowing that the client is capable of facing his/her problems resulting to change without feeling overwhelmed by the given situation, thus avoiding feeling burnout.   As such, the combination of compassion and empathy allows for more effective and stronger therapeutic relationship between the client and the clinician (Schwartz, 2014).

Are you in immediate distress? You can connect with someone 24/7 by calling 1-416-408-4357 (HELP)