Almost by chance, I happened upon a fascinating video done by Dr Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston. She is a best-selling author, speaker and research professor who has spent the past decade studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame. Her video, The Power of Empathy is, in our view, a superb and succinct illustration about empathy and its differentiation from sympathy:
One of the important components of Motivational Interviewing is the ability to be in a place of compassion with our clients, that is, to have one’s heart in the right place, to be ‘over there’ with our clients. I recall one health care professional being so struck by the fact that in all his years of working with his clients, he had not once asked one of them, ‘What’s it like for you to live with hypertension?’ Although a deeply caring professional, he realized he had never made what Dr Brown calls the “vulnerable choice” to be in a feeling place with his clients. Empathy and compassion fuel connection. We encourage you to spend the 3 minutes watching this important and revealing Power of Empathy talk. After you do, consider these questions: what steps might you take to be fully empathetic with your clients? What qualities of empathy can you enrich in your practice? To view some of Dr Brown’s other talks, inclusive of two very popular and inspirational Ted Talks (one on the Power of Vulnerability, the other on Listening to Shame), please visit her website here. Finally, it is intriguing to note that cultural thinker and author Roman Krznaric has written a recent (February 2014) book entitled Empathy: A Handbook for Revolution. In it, Krznaric makes a powerful case for empathy as the key to a better life and better world; he argues our brains are wired for social connection: empathy is at the heart of who we are…it’s an essential, transforming quality we must develop for the 21st Century. Click here to read more about his book.