‘Empathy’ is a False God: ‘Responsiveness’ is the Real Deal


‘Empathy’ has been revered as the emotional analog of wisdom. I’m here to say that it is vastly overrated, and there is something else far better. More on that later. Empathy is variously defined as “The feeling that you understand and share another person’s experience and emotions; the ability to share someone else’s feelings.” (Merriam-Webster), ‘the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.’ (Oxford Dictionary); ‘The projection of one’s own personality into the personality of another in order to understand the person better; ability to share in another’s emotions, thoughts, or feelings.’(Your Dictionary). It is an imaginative projection of one’s own consciousness on another person.

Empathy is commonly understood to mean, ‘I know exactly how you feel because I have felt the same way myself.’  Or, ‘To understand someone you have to walk a mile in their shoes’. Here’s the problem – it seems to sound caring if you say, ‘Your mother died. I know exactly how you feel because my mother died too.’ However, what commonly follows is ‘Let me tell you about my mother’s death’, as if this is supposed to be comforting. ‘Let me tell you about my favorite subject – me.’ Try saying this to someone and see how well it is received. A person in mourning needs to be listened to. We need to be receptive.

In reality, empathy is actually – projective self involvement. This is ultimately a form of narcissism that passes as caring. The real caring item is best described as ‘Responsiveness’. Responsiveness is a process of emotional receptivity, by which one is directly tuned into and involved with the other person with no reference to oneself at all. It does not involve identifying with the other person. It is a form of resonance with feeling itself.

This capacity and its origins all come from maternal love. [see – “What is Love?”] The mother responds directly to her baby’s needs without any reference to herself. She is and always was, tuned into to the baby’s physical and emotional states directly. This is the source of all love. As a psychotherapist, the issue in therapy is responsiveness, not empathy.

In fact neuroscientists have a theory which demonstrates how empathy and responsiveness are very different. They propose that so-called empathy is the result of the activation of mirror neurons. This is supposed to explain how mirroring allows one to read the emotions in others as if it is in one’s self. This then is said to determine our emotional sharing ability. In contrast, as I show in the “What is Love?” blog, responsiveness is built in from the beginning of a pregnancy from the mother to the child. It is in place at birth, and continues and matures all the way to the creation of consciousness at six weeks old. The connection of feeling between the baby and the mother is a mutual loving responsiveness when gets established and continues for the rest of their lives. It has no reference to projective identification states.

This resonance of feeling is the source of all loving and is the real item.

In psychotherapy, the emotional holding that is necessary to foster mourning the pain of past traumas takes place exclusively in the realm of responsiveness – direct feeling for the other person –feelings given and feelings received. As a young therapist I prided myself in my ability to understand my patients because I felt I had a relatively broad base of experience, and I could identify with their plight through empathy and sensitivity. But unfortunately, I was barking up the wrong tree. Here is what happened. Janice arrived on the inpatient ward and was assigned to me. She had overdosed when her brutal ex-husband had threatened her once again and was heading to her apartment for a confrontation. In fear and despair, she overdosed. She had no money, and her ex-husband was not paying the alimony or any child support. This was her story. I met with her in therapy for a couple of weeks. I felt for her as a victim. I was empathic for her plight. I understood. I felt like a good psychiatrist, sensitive to her needs and pain.

A couple of weeks later, we were meeting for our regular therapy session. She began the session. “Sorry about this, but Dr. X, the chief resident, told me you would fill out the food stamps form. Okay? Here it is.” She explained that early in her hospitalization, my chief resident had arranged to get her on food stamps to feed her three-year-old child. I hadn’t known anything about it. When Janice approached him to renew the food stamps, he told her to finalize the application with me. I responded that our relationship would just deal with therapy, and I wouldn’t be involved in getting her or denying her money. If she wanted food stamps, she should go back to Dr. X. At first she got angry and accused me of not caring about her hungry baby. “It’s not a big deal. Just sign the form!” Her aggressiveness began to ring funny to me. I continued to draw the line until, to my surprise she suddenly changed her tune. “Dr. X is a self-important fool! Here’s the real story. My ex-husband was coming over for dinner …”

“Huh? I thought he was a monster.”

“Well, actually, he comes to dinner several nights a week.”

“He does?”

“Um, we’ve been doing that for a while. He sees the baby and, you know, it’s good for her to see her father …”

“This isn’t adding up right.”

“Okay, here’s the real truth. We got divorced to qualify for housing assistance. They wouldn’t give us any money because we were married. My husband is a good man who works very hard and makes a good living. It’s not fair that only single mothers get assistance. The divorce was just to get money. What’s the difference? We’re still together. In fact, we live together in our apartment full time. We had had a fight about something, and I called him at work and told him that I had overdosed. Of course, I hadn’t. I knew he would come to my rescue as he always did. The problem was that he would come home and realize I hadn’t overdosed. He’d see that I had lied again, and he would really be fed up. So while he was on his way home, I had to force myself to swallow enough pills, and time it right that he would find me unconscious. Sure enough, it worked. He found me, called the medics, and here I am.”

I certainly didn’t see this coming. But it effectively taught me to listen, pay attention, and not assume I understood. Once I got myself out of the way, I was free to listen, pay attention, be open, and be responsive to Janice’s actual play of character. The therapist has to be open to learning about his patient’s characterological world, wherever this takes him. This means a willingness to be open to whatever is stirred up in himself—the full range of human experience, identities, and feelings. This ranges from the sublime and tender to the dark forces of horror, terror, depravity, and cruelty. The therapist must genuinely be willing to sit with aspects of all of these forces, anything stirred in him, in order to sit with his patients’ characterological dramas and explore them.

I learned that therapy is not about empathy but responsiveness. If it were the otherwise, I would only be able to treat people who were just like me. I couldn’t treat a female, or a person of a different race, ethnic background, religion, or temperament. I couldn’t treat someone of a different age, culture, or language. I would have to have the same sexuality or the same alcohol or drug history as a given patient. If we take identity likeness all the way, then the only person I could treat would be myself.

There is a whole world out there, most of which is outside my personal experience. It opened me to the whole gamut of human experience. So I was open to learn. We are all cut from the same cloth and the human story is one story. And we all can imagine and identify with anything, once you get past that no one is better or worse than someone else. Of course, we need to be open. Of course we need to listen. Of course we need to be sensitive to differences. As a therapist, I must be open to working with the full scope of all characterological plays, including all imaginable aspects of the dark side, the source of suffering.

Sometimes it may be functional that in organizations such as AA, it can certainly be helpful to have others share in the same experience and to know what it is like. “I’ve been there.” In this case the projective identification fits. People agree to take turns to tell their story. In this way one person doesn’t hog the spotlight. Alcoholics know all the tricks. It is useful because as they say, you can’t con a con. AA is indeed useful for many people to stop drinking. And that certainly is good. But in my experience, to really deal with one’s character, projective self identification can only go so far. One really has to reopen the real human need and its associated pain. This can only happen in the context of trust in a loving responsiveness for the very feeling of one’s being. To reopen something that has been closed off due to trauma, is the hardest thing on earth.

The idea that there could be a quick fix for a patient’s suffering is an absurdity. The necessary time for digesting one’s pain reflects the nature and degree of damage that created one’s characterological drama in the first place. The time for recovery reflects the damage done in one’s world.

Therapy takes how ever long it takes. Let’s say you were baking a cake that took fifty minutes at 350 degrees, but you decided you wanted it in ten minutes instead of fifty. Here’s an idea: Why not cook it at 1750 degrees for ten minutes? Sounds like a plan—the only problem is, you’ll get soot. It cannot work. You cannot override Mother Nature. There are no shortcuts. Short term therapy, no matter what it promises cannot deal with the real issues. Cognitive therapy cannot deal with the real issues which are feeling issues, and do not lend themselves to cognition. And certainly psychiatric problems are not biochemical abnormalities, as if drugs could possibly deal with what ails us.

All of our problems are human problems that reflect our human story.


Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.


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  1. Thanks for this article Robert.

    Your writing made me think of Kohuts descriptions of the selfobject functions of the mother/therapist, how they allow themselves to be used as an extension of the childs/ clients self via optimal responsiveness as a self object.

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  2. I don’t get the compartmentalization . I’m your therapist I’m responsive but if you need my signature to get your food stamps for basic survival on principal ? because empathy is overrated, I won’t sign my name on a piece of paper to help you eat because I’m a purist within the confines of the ethics of my sacred profession ? This allows me through convoluted reasoning not to respond with immediacy to the hunger of your baby.” Something is happening here and you don’t know what it is , do you Mr. Jones.” (A quote from a Bob Dylan song.)

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  3. Dr. Berezin,

    This was another nicely written, thought-provoking article. I agree with much of what you had to say, but not everything. I often wonder how people overcame traumas before the days of therapists… individuals have forever had to survive trauma; and have historically learned to overcome it; from even the deepest emotional wounds.

    What about the “Greatest Generation?”… The vast majority of them went off to war as very young men, and returned to re-integrate; build lives, families.. without therapists. I wonder if wounds are meant to be re-opened, examined, analyzed. Maybe healing takes place by not re-opening wounds; by developing a place back into a community, culture by finding natural ways to do so.


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    • Duane:

      I agree with part of what you say about the Greatest Generation returning as young men and going on to lead normal lives. This would appear to suggest that the majority of the returning were able to pull themselves up from the boot straps despite extremely traumatizing experiences but many of those who returned did not experience combat, being bombed constantly, or imprisonment. Most, who were wounded in combat during the forties died in the field and simply didn’t return, unlike more recent OIF/OEF Veterans.

      Of those who did experience combat or who were wounded in combat, as was my father, let me remind you that their trauma didn’t just disappear, it simply got handed down to the next generation.

      In WWII, the field medicine was not as advanced. Mortally wounded or brain damaged individuals tended to die in the field or in the less than sanitary conditions of the nearest field hospitals. My dad was extremely lucky not to have lost his arm to gangrene after being shot by mortar fire.

      The VA only recently released data on those who were the most severely affected by their combat experiences. In fact, the data shows that the VA performed 2,000 lobotomies on WWII Veterans. This doesn’t take into account WWII Veterans who had other atrocities done to them such as shock therapy, insulin etc. How many were institutionalized, died from alcoholism, were incarcerated, homeless, etc. I’m not sure if those numbers were tracked as they are today.

      Today, I think we have a greater handle on rates of homelessness, incarceration, and addiction involving Vietnam veterans and OIF/OEF Veterans. This information is routinely harvested during the intake interviews of most food banks, social service agencies, etc. In fact, the rate of military sexual assault, now that females account for 10% of active duty service members, is now being tracked as never before. This is a first.

      I would dispute that the greatest generation gritted through their trauma. My dad, who is a service disabled (Battle of the Bulge) WWII Veteran who will turn 90 this year clearly suffered from PTSD all of his adult life. We children range in age from late forties to early seventies and all bear the mark to various degrees of being raised by a father who was depressed, agoraphobic, and emotionally detached.

      One of the most scary and shocking things that separates the war in Iraq/Afghanistan from other US wars is that for the first time, psychologists and psychiatrists were embedded in combat units (arguably in direct violation of their profession’s code of ethics) for the express purpose of patching up severely traumatized combat soldiers, and making them fit to proceed in battle. In fact, for the first time in US History, we will be dealing with the after math of soldiers who were given high doses of legally prescribed psychotropic medications while still in the field! Unlike in Vietnam where the drug of choice was pot and heroine (thankfully, my husband who is a Vietnam Veteran did not return as a heroine addict) for OIF/OEF Veterans the drugs of choice were Seroquel, Zyprexa, Ativan, Geodon, Xanax, etc. Absolutely scandalous.

      Given the high rate of people coming home today with complex PTSD, brain damage from explosive devices combined with trauma, while being unscrupulously drugged with all manner of harmful drugs, is it any wonder that the newly returning will face a different set of demons?

      Add to this mix the following fact: only 1% of our population were affected in George Bush’s all volunteer ‘poverty’ forces as opposed to the 5% of households who were affected during WWII when the draft made service c ompulsory, one must calculate for the arguably greater isolation that today’s returning Veterans and their family members face as opposed to the isolation felt by larger numbers during WWII.

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      • Mad mom,

        You make some good points. I don’t have all the answers, and I certainly didn’t mean to imply for a moment that the troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan don’t need supports to help them overcome what they went through. I think we owe it to them to provide whatever they need!

        Again, I was thinking outloud about the subject of overcoming traua, and curiously wondering about WWII veterans. I’m all for whatever works for someone, including not talking if a person so chooses. I know that these young people who served in the Middle East have served far too many tours. They deserve to be welcomed home and shown some love and support!


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  4. Duane:

    I know you didn’t mean to imply that the newest generation of Veterans don’t need help. WWII Veterans did have one important advantage over the newest generation of returning veterans; in 1945, there weren’t any have pseudo consumer advocacy organizations like NAMI touting that there is a pill for every trauma, including the soul wounds caused by the atrocities of war. Plus, WWII Veterans weren’t living in an era when big Pharma paid billions to convince congress, the Pentagon, and the VA to spend over 15% of the VA’s annual budget on meds . Just think of the real help those billions could purchase if they weren’t squandered on harmful and addictive meds.

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  5. Thank you Dr Berezin and “Duane.” In my third decade, and ten years since I’ve struggled to form empathy for myself- beginning from basket case to average loner, I have not made the world a better place and no-one stuck around on the other side of the tunnel. I wanted to address this situation by taking action, by reaching for those still struggling in my community. I want to justify the money spent on therapy (but my therapists would say there’s no need. There’s something untouchable about talk therapy when you’re deep inside. I understand now why psychiatrists don’t want to get involved with “characterological drama.” Dr. Berezin I’d never heard this term before.; is it Jungian?) Good gracious, what a tangled web we weave. To crudely identify myself, I thought I was the hero of my drama- a story that I never changed. A psychiatrist takes a failed hero, helps him see the end. A hero is usually bad at poetry, and a bad loser.

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  6. Thank you Dr. Berezin,

    Your post reminds me of a comment by moral philosopher Mary Midgley:

    “In spite of the huge differences between cultures, all that we know about human behavior shows that it can be understood only by reference to people’s own thoughts, dreams, hopes, fears and other feelings. This is not something invented by a particular culture. It’s universal.”

    And thank you, weathervane, for showing your appreciation what a good psychotherapist can do.

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  7. Why do psychologists and psychiatrists throw the terms empathy and emotion around to mean anything and everything but nothing at the same time? And why do psychiatrists think they have the right to define how other humans should emotionally respond and cognitively interpret life’s mundane and important events? Our human emotions are our own personal cueing system, fed by our own personal brains, and used to help us make optimal decisions based upon how we are each able to sense, think, and decide.

    How my personal emotions that come from my own personal brain cue me is highly personal, as personal as are the cues are that I receive about my genitalia or stomach or skin. It is indecent for a psychiatrist or anyone else to comment upon how other people should interpret their own emotions or any of their biological responses.

    Furthermore, empathy is not a personality state that floats inside the brains and bodies of some people and not in others. The word empathy is currently one of the most controlling and sinister words in the English language. Whoever has the power to define empathy and to decide who has it and who doesn’t is the most powerful person in the room, in the organization, the community, etc. Every person born a mammal will care for their family and tribe when and how they can. Nobody needs to tell anybody else what empathy is or how to best exercise it. To care for and about one’s family and tribe is in us becaue we are mammals, even in the worst of us. None of our biological capacities in is us because a priest or a psychiatrist has identified and taught it to us.

    Nobody, not even our own mothers, and least of all a psychiatrist needs to teach us what love or compassion is or how to express it. We can certainly pick up cues from our mothers for how they express and respond to love. But if we are born a human, we will love. If we have a cold mother, we don’t need to learn how to love from someone else. To imply otherwise is inhumane.

    Human responses like love, kindness, and compassion do not occur because a psychologist has identified them and taught people the right ways of recognizing or achieving them. They occur because we mammals are born with biological cueing systems and cognitive capacities that call up these kinds of responses.

    Psychiatrists and psychologists do not need to prescribe how human beings need to respond or behave. People must have equal rights to sense, assess, conclude, decide, and respond in the ways that make sense to their sensory, motor, and nervous systems. When mammals can exist with the freedom to manifest their biological responses in the ways that make sense to them, they are calm, less aggressive and/or withdrawn and they do not need to rely upon the adaptations we call mental illness.When mammals are required to sense, assess, conclude, decide, and respond in ways that make sense to a psychiatrist or any other authority, they must adadpt in order to do so, and these adaptations are what we have labeled mental illness.

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    • Karen,

      I largely agree, the psychiatric industry seems to have ‘delusions of grandeur’ it is their right to write other people’s life stories, and that is not their right.

      The psychiatric industry seems to need to overcome their ‘delusions of grandeur’ the DSM is a ‘bible,’ realize it’s nothing more than a book describing the iatrogenic illnesses their drugs cause, and learn to treat others as they’d like to be treated instead.

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  8. Very thoughtful post, Dr. Berezin. I always appreciate the sensitivity and clarity with which you write.

    Engaging with our hearts fully present, as opposed to our judgments, is what I find most healing and satisfying. I find that the dramas of the mind are based on fears which an open-hearted presence which can reassure and soothe, so that relief can be felt and clarity can emerge. A healing presence is a gift to all concerned.

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    • These are lovely words and although I might sound condescending I am not trying to be. The term open-hearted is confusing because it is a metaphor and it is abstract. When we are dealing with our human brains and bodies, I believe we should be as literal and precise as possible with terms we use to describe and prescribe anything relating to the human brain and body. This is not sterile, but humane and kind. Because confusion and uncertainty to the brain is what pain is to the skin. The brain is becomes quite threatened and anxious by confusion. Why add to a person’s mental misery by using vague and unclear metaphorical language?

      A healing presence is also a lovely term and a poetic thought, but I believe the vocabulary words we use to discuss how we each sense, assess, conclude, decide, and respond, should have a direct correlation in reality to the thing being disucssed. The word healing power is often used in reference to what the authority, wise person, or therapists is in possession of and needs to compassionately ‘give’ to the person less mentally fortunate than he or she is.

      Healing is a term of patronization. I say this respectfully as nobody wants to be patronizing. But our language makes us be. We must examine the language and the phrases we inherited because so much of our language initiated during times of great power divisions.

      Even when someone is at their lowest physically or mentally, they need to believe they are strong and capable of being resilient enough to get to the place where they can sense, assess, conclude, decide and respond with confidence in their ability to do so. If they believe they need to ‘heal’ from something, they believe they are broken somehow.

      And finally, therapists and doctors should use literal language because metaphorical language opens people up for abuse. It is a kind of language that does not have to be accountable because it doesn’t represent a concrete idea, but a vague, general idea. Precise, specific language forces us to be accountable to it.

      Ideas to ponder if interested. anyway ..I have these ideas because I believe we need to start from scratch for how we discuss our brains and bodies. We need a new vocabulary. The terms and vocabulary we are using now are keeping us stuck with 1 in 5 people being at some point mentally ill according to many statitistcs.

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        • Thank you for the thoughtful reply, Alex. I appreciate what you said and how you said it.

          I am working on creating a new vocabulary for how to reference the brain and body while simultaneously trying to communicate with words that do not threaten or polarize. And it is not easy!

          I think it is not easy because our brains are wired to assess information from the point of view of rightness, certainty, and dominance of any situation we are in. My brain wants to be right and dominant and it goes into a state of anxiety, literally, if it thinks it is not right or if is being challenged. The biological imperative of our brain to assess information from the point of view of rightness, therefore we all want to convince others to adopt our ideas.

          Instead of seeing this dynamic as negative or calling it ego or narcissism, however, I simply accept it as the biology of my brain. As such, I also have to accept it about other brains. If we all accept that each one of us is biologically tasked to be dominant in our interactions with our environment, we would communicate differently. For one, we wouldn’t have to pretend we don’t want to be dominant. We wouldn’t have to pretend to be a compilation of the meek and selfless but self loving qualities psychology has passive aggressively told us we are suppose to be.

          If we could accept that everyone is ‘always right,’ and everyone must achieve dominance in his or her own interactions with her environment, then I actually think we wouldn’t be so threatened by one another. We would no longer have anything to hide.

          My ideas about developing concrete language about the brain and body come from my years as a teacher, particularly with students with special needs. They often take me at face value and are literal thinkers. If I told them to open their hearts, it could actually frighten them.

          I find many learners who are literal thinkers are very direct in how they express themselves. They don’t say one thing and mean another. It is very refreshing and clear to communicate this way. They don’t guage how to respond to a situation based upon how they are allowed to or how they think I want them to because they often cannot think through so many steps. They respond in the ways that make sense to them, which is what we should all be doing.

          But we are taught how we ‘should’ respond so we stop connecting our own emotional cues with our responses. And lots of us become mentally ill because of it. We are heads walking around disconnected from our bodies. This is why I think discussing how our assessments and our emotions are linked neurologically is more beneficial than using metaphorical language, even if it is comforting to do so.

          If we all shared a mutually agreed upon and uniform language with which to understand and reference our brains and bodies with words that were purely descriptive instead of prescriptive or dripping with negative or even positive connotations, I think we could create a language that does not threaten or confuse children or adults. And we could strip our current psychological vocabulary of its passive aggressive and negative tendencies.

          I do appreciate your non polarizing communication style and I also think your ideas have merit. We are both right!

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          • I totally agree with you, Karen, that we are all entitled to our natural reaction and responses, based on our own individual relationship with the environment. Anything other than that is sure to throw people off-kilter, as it is not in the slightest either natural or helpful to anyone in any way to judge, oppress, deny, or invalidate our emotional response to anything!

            During my own healing, and what made all the difference–not only in my healing from having become temporarily disabled (chaotic thinking and profound chronic anxiety) from psych meds and subsequent withdrawal, but also in my current outlook on life (vastly different than what it used to be), I learned the language of the heart. That may sound metaphorical to you, but to me, based on the education I’ve had, it is concrete. The language of the heart is different than the language of the brain. I have a healing and teaching practice and I apply this and teach it, as well, so I know the effectiveness of this, as well as the literalness which it brings. The language of the heart is direct, when we are connected to our hearts. By this I mean, in touch with how our heart feels from moment to moment, not cut off from this. To me, that is our authentic truth; whereas the brain is more interpretive, and not always in the most kind way.

            Learning common language is going to take time as well as trial and error. I’m always open to being asked, “What exactly do you mean by that?” when it feels vague to someone. I also ask that question, for clarification, when need be, to avoid jumping to pre-mature conclusions. There’s a lot of sensitivity to language these days. I do my best to hear a person’s heart when they speak, which might be different than what the brain is communicating. And in turn, this is what I offer when I communicate–my heart. That’s where I’m most comfortable, and where I find clarity.

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          • Maybe ‘relaxed heart’ would be more literally what I’m saying–a feeling of relaxation around the heart/chest. To me, that translates as ‘open-hearted,’ and would constitute ‘a healing presence.’ A ‘closed heart’ would translate into a constricted, tense feeling around the heart, which constricts the flow of our energy on a physical level. That creates a dense feeling in our bodies, which mars our clarity.

            Of course, our hearts can tense up when triggered by our own thoughts or as a fear or anger response to someone else, that is human. We do have control over this, by where we choose to place our focus, and how we choose to interpret and perceive the experiences of our lives.

            Our hearts relax and tense up daily, that would be the natural order of things. I found it extremely valuable and basic my own personal growth, as well as to my practice, to discern between these two divergent states of being.

            Personally, I think a person who is in a position to help, guide, or teach others should know when their hearts are tensed up as opposed to being relaxed, own it, and be transparent about it with a client/student. I think that is the kind of self-awareness, self-responsibility, and trust that fosters mutually open communication and which also separates effective support vs. just another enmeshed power relationship where the client/student gets dumped on due to their vulnerability. A strong opinion, I realize, but I do feel strongly about this, based on what made me worse vs. what helped me to heal and experience a transformative integration.

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      • Thanks for your feedback and certainly respect your position. As a commenter, I chose to simply reflect back what I feel is sound for myself, nothing more than that. Sometimes my comments are more lengthy and I choose to elaborate, and other times, my inclination is to make a simple reflection.

        Although I hear from your reactions to my chosen language, you have an interpretation that does not fit my intention, nor is it universal to my mind. Certainly these issues present challenges in communication, and even more so, in online communication, hazard of these times. I do appreciate the inherent barriers to clarity that can come from discussing such personal and intimate issues online, albeit for the sake of being supportive to others who are in challenging positions.

        I communicate with a variety of people with varying points of references and cultures. With some my language, concepts and truth ring true, and for others it does not. Thank you for sharing your thoughts about what I say.

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  9. I’ve got news for you , Doc: What you call “responsiveness” is exactly what trained psychotherapists call “empathy.” Therapists do not take “empathy” to mean “I know exactly how you feel because the same thing happened to me.” Therapists are not taught to convey empathy by telling stories about themselves and their experiences, but by tuning into their clients’ feelings and accurately reflecting them.

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  10. Hi, As far as I know it, the AA is about action – what I mean is that a person can only judge its performance if they partake in what’s recommended. Alcohol also is only a small part of the AA (in a sense) because the AA is about living. It is probably the most successful Recovery program ever – and its for free.

    I’m not completely sure of the exact message of this article but I think the best thing about it is that its a long way from ‘largactil’.

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  11. Thank you, I appreciate your post. At Evolution in Psychotherapy conference I heard Dan Siegel talk about the empathy mistake as a therapist on a brief tangent during his general presentation. He described brain activity of therapist different when the therapist listening to a client employs “empathy” as imagining from their own life what it would be like to experience the client’s story…as opposed to imagining what it is like for that client in their life and culture and attachment and other experiences to experience their own story. The latter was described to reduce burnout and produce better client outcomes as the therapeutic space & experience is not clouded with the therapist’s world and assumptions. The client feels more truly “understood”. And for the client to feel truly uniquely understood, is my interpretation of real empathy. I agree with Dan Siegel and also you when you describe interjection of self as “empathetic presence” to be narcissistic and I think naiive. For that reason I appreciate the proposal for the overused “empathy” word to be adjusted to your “responsiveness” or some other term which clearly delineates friend and peer empathy experience to the techniques effective for therapy. Sincerely, Lynn Talmon

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