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Empathy and Applied Empathy through the Lens of Rolfing® SI and Actor Training

30 
Elektra by Euripides, William Inge’s Natural
, and Savage Love by Sam Shepard.
She also assisted on La Mirada’s award-winning
production of Miss Saigon, directed by Brian
Kite in 2012, which later toured to China.
Formerly an actress, Payne worked for many
years in Chicago with various companies,
including Steppenwolf Theatre Company, the
Artistic Home, the Hypocrites, the Journeymen,
and Famous Door. She holds an MFA in
directing from UCLA and is a member of the
2008 Lincoln Center Director’s Lab, as well as
the 2012 Director’s Lab West in Los Angeles.
As a professor, Payne has worked for UCLA
and Carnegie Mellon, and recently served as the
Director of the MFA Acting program at Point
Park University in Pisburgh, Pennsylvania.
She is also a freelance Meisner instructor,
and has taught for the School at Steppenwolf,
the Artistic Home, and the Audition Studio,
(Chicago) as well as owning her own studio in
Los Angeles. She has taught in the Steppenwolf
West intensives in both Monterey and Long
Beach. She is the founder and Artistic Director
of Theatre Lumina, a theatre company focused
on cross-cultural collaboration. Upcoming
projects include Death and the Ploughman
by Johannes von Saaz and a Polish play called
Trash Story by Magda Fertacz. Images can be
found at
Heather Corwin holds a PhD in clinical
psychology with a somatic concentration from
The Chicago School of Professional Psychology
and an MFA in Acting from Florida State
University/Asolo Conservatory. She is a
Registered Movement Educator with ISMETA.
Heather has been practicing bodywork since
1993 and has been a Rolfer since 2005. She was
the Movement Coach/Choreographer for A Piece
of Tin at the Lyric and Burial at Thebes at the
Cleveland Playhouse. She teaches movement/
voice/acting at Azusa Pacic University and
acting at Pasadena City College and has served
as Assistant Professor of Theatre at Ashland
University. Regional theater performances
in clud e : MainS tre e t Playe r s, Tenn esse e
Repertory Theater, Cleveland Playhouse,
Nashville Shakespeare Festival, Mockingbird
Public Theater, Banyan Theatre Company,
American Stage, Nashville Children’s’ Theatre,
Falcon Theatre, and Asolo Theatre. Her favorite
roles as an actress were Antigone, Myra in
Hayfever, Phoebe in As You Like It, Sonia
in Life x 3, Dr. Purgon in The Imaginary
Invalid, Katherine in Love’s Labours Lost,
one of the witches in Macbeth, and Dierdre
in I Hate Hamlet. She also co-starred on
Grey’s Anatomy. Her websites are www. and
Empathy and Applied
Empathy through
the Lens of Rolfing® SI
and Actor Training
By Heather L. Corwin, PhD, Certied Rolfer™
What brings people together? What builds
lasting relationships? How can we facilitate
deeper connections to clients? How do you
evaluate the performance of an actor? How
can empathy transform lives? How can
these questions possibly be related?
     
Integration (SI) training, my teacher Ray
McCall included at the top of our study
taught art.” My control freak balked at this
true and ever-changing with each client. The
basis behind this quote and my experiential
understanding is the somatic relationship
(relationship between mind and body).
I find many emotions lie in the body,
waiting for the safety to express themselves.
Emotion psychologists LeDoux (2003) and
Ekman (1999) agree that recalling emotions
can promote physiological and biological
responses, so that memories from the past
can potentially arouse emotions in the
present. During these occurrences, a Rolfer
can employ empathy in the safe space of the
 
there are profound empathetic events
    
explore what those relationships are by
     
     
by empathy.
What is Empathy?
Empathy is “the ability to communicate
an understanding of a client’s world”
(Reynolds et al. 1999, 1,177), or having
the ability to feel another person’s feelings
(Eisenberg et al. 2006). Similarly, performing
artists practice skills of empathy when
inhabiting a role (Verducci 2000) because
actors are stepping into a character’s life
and embodying that character’s choices and
ways of being. As Rolfers, we ask questions
to discover how life has impacted our
clients and also witness our clients’ walk
      
an empathetic lens. Plus, the presence of
empathy allows for a more fully integrated
healing because a witness (the Rolfer)
supports the integration of the event. Since
integration is one of the principles on which
we are able to facilitate change of any form
 
in the body), empathy would also support
the evolution of alignment.
Empathy is necessary in many
circumstances, especially when facing
trauma. When my mother died suddenly
was in the process of training as a Rolfer and
had relocated to Boulder, a new place with
few friends. Thankfully, a dear friend of
mine from graduate school (I had graduated
the year before) lived a short drive away in
Denver. She came over and we sat on the
stoop together in silence. I knew she could
feel my pain radiating through me like
a radioactive volcano. The fact that she
could just be there with me, allow me to
feel the largeness of my grief, and respect
the depth of my pain, describes one of my
more profound personal experiences of
empathy. My friend understood from losses
in her own life how big my pain was and
was able to feel into my pain in a supportive
and allowing manner.
Empathy exists on many levels, can apply
to many experiences, large and small.
The point is, through empathy, a person
is able to begin integrating the feelings.
Empathy does not always have to surround
the presence of it more around trauma,
because a larger need for empathy seems
to surround devastating events. Later in
this article, I will expand on the idea of
WORKING WITH PERFORMERS  31
empathy and how applied empathy can
be transformative.
As Rolfers, every day we work with
people who have unresolved trauma.
We may not know it, and they may not
know it. However, you may notice that a
few sessions into working with a client,
you have a session that seems to be
profoundly impactful and organizing. I
would argue that the reason for this is that
a relationship has been established, and
the relationship between client and Rolfer
is able to be therapeutic on so many levels
because successful Rolfers knowingly
or unconsciously are able to practice
empathy with their clients continually.
Foundationally, the skill of listening without
judgment fosters empathy. Even before I
earned a doctorate in clinical psychology
with a somatic concentration, I knew from
decades as a bodywork practitioner that
being present and in the moment allows the
space for transformational healing. These
same elements of listening, being present,
and being in the moment are the cornerstone
of actor training, in which I’ve trained,
practiced, and taught for over twenty years.
the Actor’s Task
When I work with actors as a Rolfer, I
    
predilection to be open. I see a correlation
between the actor’s ability to morph with
ease on stage and the ability to integrate
   
invest in endless choices and circumstances
that may include physical adjustments.
For example, when I was working at
Tennessee Repertory Theatre doing the
show W;t, the woman who played the old
    
     
     
with a dowager’s hump. Maintaining such
an exaggerated contraction or anterior
shortening of the body for ten minutes a
performance, eight performances a week,
can take a toll. More to the point, this actor
was required to have a deep love for the
main character because she was the only
person who truly loved this woman – and in
this scene, she knew the main character was
 
can help support artistic choices that are
demanding on the performer, notably
repetitive stress. Repetitive stress can also
apply to the emotional demands of a role.
(Tension is a common result of highly
charged emotions in any situation, whether
the person is portraying a role or not.)
An actors physical adjustments, as just
discussed, are usually easier to perceive
than her ability to remain in the moment or
engaged in listening. When in the moment,
a person is neither distracted with events
that just happened nor concerned with
things that have yet to happen. (Many
philosophers would say that being in the
moment is also a key to enlightenment, but
I digress.) One way to clearly know that a
person is not in the moment is to recognize
that his attention is inward rather than
outward, which implies a lack of presence
in the now. As an audience member
    
one possibility is that the performer may
not be in the moment, which may make the
performance look rehearsed or technical.
Another way we realize that a person is
in the moment is recognizing that he is
working spontaneously with impulses:
you see the person want to do something
an action – that he does, which makes the
person seem more alive, real, and in the
moment. When a performance is done well,
all the actor’s focus and energy are poured
into the role to tell the story, which should
be spellbinding!
Let’s look at applied empathy through the
character of Hecuba from the Greek tragedy
Hecuba by Euripides. Queen Hecuba has to
endure learning that her one remaining son
is dead (he was entrusted to and then killed
       
opens with the ghost of her son addressing
the audience), and that her daughter will
be sacrificed to appease the gods. This
     
seeing her youngest child killed right in
front of her. Portraying that kind of grief is
exhausting. Not only does the actor have to
make us believe she mourns these losses,
she has to make us believe she would do
anything for justice (the ancient Greeks
preferred this word to what might also be
called ‘revenge’). The actor must empathize
with the character to produce a believable
empathize with some of the other characters
being portrayed to make the story more
alive and engaging for the audience. In
other words, the actor will want to play
the role in such a way that the performance
is true to the story while making choices
   
inner human struggle that is relatable. This
process can inspire the strongest connection
from the actor to the audience (inspired by
their empathy).
Applied Empathy
in Acting and Rolng SI
I see many parallels between practicing
     
an actor through applied empathy. Both
actors and Rolfers are required to research
to relate (to the client or to the character)
to be successful. If understanding of the
background and given circumstances
of a client or character is ignored, that’s
when either bad performances or a
disappointing therapeutic relationship
can occur. As Rolfers, we listen to our
clients and have intake forms, which can
build understanding the underpinning
of empathy. As actors, we read the play
many times to learn how other characters
talk about our character, examine time
period and social norms that do or do
through how we would relate to being put
in those circumstances (in other words, we
listen to the life of the three-dimensional
character who has to become a person on
flaw, which harkens back to Aristotle’s
requirements of good theatre. What I
witness in great performances is an actor’s
ability to meld the character to her person in
such a way that she is able to bring out the
characteristics demanded in the role. When
roles are breathtakingly alive, the actor has
gone a step further: through applied empathy
there is a magical fusion of who the actor
is and who the character becomes – they’re
the same entity, the actor, but the character
has forever changed and informed the life
empathy as the ability to reach into another’s
experience and feel it personally without
judgment. In these conditions, the observer
is emotionally touched to the degree of
eliciting compassion.
I see a similar process of applied
empathy in the magical transformation
    
aligned post-Rolfing body in the most
  
  
that this exchange exists between the client’s
experience of self and the Rolfer’s perception
32 
of the aligned client. Another way to say
this is that the Rolfer helps bring out the
client’s potential through applied empathy.
I’ll give the example of a client I will call
“Jane,” who when I worked with her was
in her late forties and had survived breast
cancer, including double mastectomies and
reconstruction surgeries that went awry.
Jane had been told by medical professionals
that she would never be able to fully extend
her arms again. Being a health professional
herself, she didn’t agree with this diagnosis
    
she called me with her situation, I said we
would have to try at least one session to see
how she responds, and my empathy was
already engaged. In assessing the situation
need to work directly on the scars, and I
wanted to honor her limits and boundaries
(along with California laws). She looked at
me for a moment, gazing directly into my
eyes as if sizing me up, and said, “I’ll do
whatever it takes to play volleyball again.”
I understood. Using applied empathy, I
could see her playing again – and so our
me, because I carried the weight of hope on
my heart and in my hands. Intention, hope,
and desire aligned to free up the First-Hour
territory, indicating that we could indeed
make headway through our work together.
feedback from both parties, I said to Jane, “I
really think you can play volleyball again. It
may take about twenty sessions, but I think
  
possible.” I meant every word. Jane cried
with relief. She told me that no one had
given her hope. Through applied empathy,
Jane was playing volleyball again in less
Jane knew there was a version of herself
that would play volleyball again, and my
Rolfer’s eye, heart, and hands were able to
Empathy and applied empathy can support
trem endous emotiona l heali ng in the
Rolfing studio and tremendous stage
    
a Rolfer, acting a role, or simply being a
human being, empathy allows for lasting
and meaningful connections with other
people, connections that ease the relentless
empathy invaluable when working with
necessary to create a believable portrayal
of a character as well as a nuanced and
I am less angry and more congenial when
I engage empathy – especially in trying
Heather Corwin PhD is a Certied Rolfer and
has been practicing bodywork since 1993. She
holds a PhD in clinical psychology with a
somatic concentration from the Chicago School
of Professional Psychology and an MFA in
theatre from Florida State University/Asolo
Conservatory. Corwin teaches actor training
at Pasadena City College and Azusa Pacic
University. She runs her wellness studio
( in Altadena, California.
Eisenberg, N., T.L. Spinrad, and A. Sadovsky
2006. “Empathy-Related Responding
in Children.” In M. Killen, J.G. Smetana
(Eds.) Handbook of Moral Development (pp.
517-549). Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence
Erlbaum Associates Publishers.
Ekman, P. 1999. “Basic Emotions.” In
T. Dalgleish and M. Power, Handbook
of Cognition and Emotion (pp. 40-60).
New York: Wiley.
LeDoux, J. 2003. Synaptic Self: How Our
Brains Become Who We Are. New York:
1999. “Empathy Has Not Been Measured
in Clients’ Terms or Effectively Taught:
A Review of the Literature.” Journal of
Advanced Nursing, 30(5): 1177–1185.
Verducci, S. 2000. A Moral Method?
Thoughts on Cultivating Empathy through
Method Acting.” Journal of Moral Education,
29(1): 87-99.
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Notable educational theorists have begun to call for the cultivation of empathy in moral education. Currently, and almost exclusively, theorists advocate exploring the characters and worlds in literature and biography to nurture empathic capacities. This paper suggests that we can expand the conversation to include the dramatic art of acting. Using Nel Noddings ethic of Care, I contend that the type of empathy necessary for Caring holds certain skills and processes in common with the type of empathy Method actors employ in their work. Given that acting training breaks down the process of empathy into do-able (and discuss-able) steps, Method techniques may prove useful to educators. The paper also points to certain moral divergences between the empathy in Caring and that employed in acting and suggests that the use of Method techniques be supplemented with moral content and by the exercise of moral reasoning.
Major issues in theory and research concerning empathy and sympathy include definitional issues, the early development of empathy and sympathy, measurement issues, and the correlates (especially moral behavior) and origins of individual differences in empathy and sympathy (including factors related to individual differences in empathy and sympathy). Definitional issues have already been reviewed; measurement issues are discussed primarily as they relate to other topics. In the remainder of this chapter, topics covered include the development of empathy and sympathy, their relation to moral behavior, adjustment, and social competence; the potential role of emotion-related regulation in individual differences in empathy; gender differences in empathy; and the socialization of empathy and sympathy. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
IntroductionThe Characteristics That Distinguish Basic EmotionsDoes Any One Characteristic Distinguish the Basic Emotions?The Value of the Basic Emotions PositionAcknowledgementsReferences
Empathy has not been measured in clients’ terms or effectively taught: a review of the literature Empathy, the ability to communicate an understanding of a client’s world, is said to be a crucial component of all helping relationships. The first part of this paper focuses on the failure of measures of empathy to reflect clients’ views about the ability to offer empathy. It is argued that, if clients are able to perceive the amount of empathy in helping relationships, they are able to advise professionals about how to offer empathy. The second part of this paper examines the inconclusive research evidence that existing courses have enabled professionals to offer empathy, and the disagreement about how empathy is best taught. The literature reviewed in this paper substantiates these observations.
Synaptic Self: How Our Brains Become Who We Are
  • J Ledoux
LeDoux, J. 2003. Synaptic Self: How Our Brains Become Who We Are. New York: Penguin.