The Radical Leap of True Empathy

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Empathic capacity is widely considered to be a primary ingredient of intimacy. In the couple case described here, the partners had revealed considerable competence in empathic attunement to one another when the issues were somewhat removed from their own deepest sensitivities. A critical incident had occurred a number of years prior to therapy that was processed by the couple in two sessions which are described in this article. These sessions reveal the complexities and significance of the empathic leap when one's own emotions are intensely involved. I asked the couple to read this article and to include their perceptions of the sessions described.

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Occasionally research shocks the researcher. This happened in a phenomenological exploration of the use of role-play in the supervision of psychotherapy as reported in this article. Role-play as presented in this article is used during a supervisory hour to bypass or supplement detached descriptions about clients. The therapist, after presenting to the supervisor some information about the client, the therapist's concerns, and the interaction in the therapy, enacts the client as genuinely as possible. Meantime the supervisor serves as "therapist." When a good working relation exists between therapist and supervisor, such role-play brings a new dimension into the work. The experience of the role-playing therapist is not a literal reproduction of the work with the client. Rather, as this research shows, the experience derives from a deeper level of the engagement between the client and the therapist. The term meld is used to designate a phase in the role-play in which the therapist can no longer distinguish whether his or her words are from his or her own center or that of the client.
This article examines the core elements of effective psychotherapy from both an individual and systems perspective as a framework for conceptualizing and evaluating the efficacy of the Relationship Enhancement model of family therapy (Guerney, 1977). A case presentation is used to illustrate the RE model's suitability to the four core elements of effective family therapy described.
The method of "becoming", as an approach to increasing empathic ability, promoting exploratory dialogue, and heightening consciousness, is described. The method is seen as applicable across theoretical orientations. It is a way to operationalize Martin Buber's concept of "inclusion," which he defined as a "bold swinging" into the consciousness of another person. Details are given about the method's application to resistance, confusion, defensiveness, criticalness, and other barriers to awareness, relationship, and the co-creation of shared meanings. Case examples are provided to illustrate the use of the method in a variety of contexts.
Workshop presented at the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy
  • K Tomm