November 2016 Tool of the Month: Empathy Exercise to Help You Prepare for Sessions

Do you ever have times, maybe at the end of a long day of seeing clients, that you feel disconnected or apathetic? Of course you do; we all do. It’s tough to remain present to suffering hour after hour. During times like this it’s common for therapists to try to just “push through”, to ignore our feelings and power on. But we would like to suggest a different, more compassionate, and also probably more effective strategy—getting in contact with your values through a brief perspective taking exercise.

In our work with highly shame-prone and self-critical clients, we pay a lot of attention to perspective taking work. We have previously posted about using chair work for flexible perspective taking, using video with clients to elicit flexible perspective taking, using perspective taking to teach clients to VOUCH for themselves, and a conceptualization post with examples of I/You perspective taking. We also include cutting edge research on perspective taking in our monthly research updates

Here is another perspective taking resource that is a practice for you to do before your client walks in the door. This is a short video (4 minutes) intended to be a brief perspective taking exercise to help you to be ready to meet your client with increased empathy, and  thereby increased effectiveness. In addition to being more effective with your clients in general, this exercise can be particularly helpful when you feel disconnected from the work you are doing with a particular client. Perspective taking exercises like this can help you reconnect with your values, both as a therapist in general and also with this particular client. This can lead to an increased sense of vitality and meaning for you in your work, even at the end of a long day.

This video was created by our friend, Gareth Holman and based on work by Vilardaga, Levin, and Hayes (2007).

The video begins by asking you to take a few moments to drop in, and then asks you to do the following:

Imagine that you are your client on their way to their therapy session with you
-  What thoughts and feelings might they be experiencing?
-  Notice the history behind those reactions
-  Notice their conscious awareness that is more than the content of their suffering

Now recall thoughts, feelings, and judgments you have had about your client in the past
-  Notice the history behind your reactions
-  Notice your own conscious awareness

Now remember when you first decided to be a therapist
-  What thoughts and feelings did you have about it at the time?
-  What thoughts and feelings do you have about being a therapist now?

Now think about 5 years in the future
-  What do you want your client to have taken away from this?

We find that this video is the perfect length to practice in between sessions. We hope you enjoy it as much as we do!

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