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Empathy is a skill which has been used by child and youthcare practitioners for many years. Among all the other relevant skills, empathyhas been named the most popular: “empathy is the construct that has evoked the mostattention” (Feller & Cottone, 2003, p. 53). In relation to this field, itis known as the ability “to see the world through the eyes of the client”(Shebib, 2017, p.40). This skill involves practitioners being able tounderstand their clients’ perspectives and feelings without injecting their ownviewpoints into the situation.
To show empathy, practitioners must be able toactively listen to their clients, pay attention to their non-verbal cues andsuspend all judgement or assumptions. Despite all that is known about empathy,there is still a debate on whether or not it is a prominent skill forpractitioners to use. With the use of research and facts from articles andacademic writing, this paper will prove that empathy is an essential skill forchild and youth practitioners to have. In any helping profession, the clientis always the central focus. One of the main benefits for clients whoexperience empathy through treatment is that they are highly likely to receiveimproved outcomes. According to Shebib, experiencing empathy helps clients tounderstand the impact that their emotions have on their life, as it, “assistsclients to understand how emotions influence decision making and helps clientsrecognize the impact of emotions on themselves and others” (2017,p. 160).
Thisreflection then contributes to a client’s self-awareness as they now understandhow their emotions trigger certain reactions. In addition, clients learn how toproperly manage their difficult feelings: “empathy also assists clients inidentifying and labelling feelings, which allows them to deal with thosefeelings” (Shebib, 2017, p. 161). Once a client is able to handle theiremotions, they can then start the process of self-acceptance since they can nowrecognize that their emotions can be explained and that there is nothing wrongwith feeling a certain way. Empathy is also proven to aid in the treatment ofsubstance abuse: “research shows that empathy is one of the strongestpredictors of success in reducing relapse” (Shebib, 2017, p. 161). This isbecause a fair amount of substance abuse victims have an emotional reason fortheir addiction, such as, stress or the death of a loved one.
When they areable to release those emotions onto their practitioner and receive an empathicresponse in return, it provides the clients with a smoother recovery process.Studies show that the experience of empathy reduces antisocial behavior, aswell as, “inhibits aggression towards others and promotes healthy personaldevelopment” (Gerdes & Segal, 2011, p.142). Similar to the substance abusevictims, children and youth who exhibit these behaviors don’t know a healthyway to cope with their frustrations. Having a practitioner to talk throughtheir problems with reduces and eventually eliminates the behavior. Incounselling sessions, the use of empathy increases client participation levels:”clients generally increase their level of therapy satisfaction, likelihood ofcompliance, and involvement in the treatment process” (Clark, 2010, p.
348).Even the scared and unwilling clients tend to adhere to the treatment as aresult of the empathic and non-judgemental attitude of the practitioner, whichencourages them to let their guard down. Observing practitioners whodemonstrate healthy and effective empathic skills improves a client’scommunication patterns: “counsellors who use empathic communication and other activelistening skills are modelling skills that clients can use to improve theirrelationships with others” (Shebib, 2017, p.
161). Due to the great amount oftime clients spend with their practitioners, they have a tendency to view themas role models, which often leads them to adopt their behaviors andcommunication skills. The amount of empathy that a practitionerexpresses has a crucial effect on the success that a client has in treatment.For that reason, a lack of empathy results in destructive client behavior.
Practitioners who refuse to use empathy or who do not use it correctly, prompttheir clients to give up on their treatment: “confrontational counselling leadsto high dropout rates” (Shebib, 2017, p. 161). Majority of the clients who seekhelp or who are required to get help from child and youth practitioners arestruggling with trust and self-esteem issues. With that being the case, whenthey are faced with a practitioner who does not attempt to understand or listento them, but rather shows signs of judgement and rejection, they result todefending themselves by escaping the counselling process. The failure to beempathetic with children and youth affects not only their mental state, buttheir physical actions as well: “the lack of empathy is correlated withbullying, aggressive behavior, violent crime, and sexual offending” (Gerdes& Segal, 2011, p. 142). This is due to the fact that these children andyouth do not know how to effectively cope with or control their emotions.
Nothaving someone there, who they can work through these problems with, causesmany of them to act out in anger or violence. To invoke change in the lives ofchildren and youth, a practitioner’s methods, skills and counseling practicesmust be beneficial. Perhaps the most valuable skill, empathy, increases theeffectiveness of practitioners. When an empathy-based treatment approach isused, practitioners are unlikely to oversimplify the client’s problems and rushinto providing their solution: “because they understand more, they are alsoless prone to insult their clients with well-meaning but unusable and prematureadvice” (Shebib, 2017, p. 161). Effective practitioners understand that mostclients are facing emotional confusion and cannot comprehend or accept adviceuntil their emotional needs are met. The use of empathy allows practitioners todevelop a deeper understanding of the client’s problems which in turn leadsthem to provide the appropriate treatment methods: “empathy is also linked to amore comprehensive understanding and conceptualization of clinical concerns,which can therefore lead to more responsive and targeted treatments” (Bayne& Hays, 2017, p.
34). Using facilitation and treatment practices that areappropriate for the client’s situation results in better outcomes. Practitioners play an important role inthe lives of children and youth, as they are their guides, counsellors andadvocates.
Taking on this role can be physically and emotionally draining sincethey are constantly dealing with their clients’ problems, however, whenpractitioners use empathy in their practice it saves them from becomingoverwhelmed. Many practitioners who engage in counseling feel as if they needto take on their clients’ feelings as their own, which leads to them to becomeburdened, stressed out and unable to disentangle their feelings from theirclients’. Using an empathic approach instead, prevents “over arousal in emotionsharing” (Gerdes & Segal, 2011, p.145). With this approach, thepractitioner seeks to comprehend the client’s feelings and point of view on thesituation.
To properly do this, they must observe the clients’ responses andbody language, rather than taking their emotions and making it their own. Thisallows them to keep their own feelings separate from their work and separatefrom the feelings of others. On the other hand, some practitioners experiencephysical and mental burnout do to the fact that they feel as if they need tohave all of the solutions to their clients’ problems in order to refrain from appearingincompetent.
When a practitioner holds that mindset, they begin to stress overtheir clients’ problems and focus on trying to force out a response, instead ofconcentrating on how to help the client emotionally. Empathy, however, onlyrequires the practitioner to understand and respond to their clients’ feelingsas a way to help them discover the meaning behind their emotions, “by assistingclients to understand and manage feelings, energy is freed up for problemsolving and clients may be able to move ahead without further counselorinvolvement” (Shebib, 2017, p. 161).
The use of empathy in counselingsituations helps practitioners avoid placing an unbearable amount of pressureon themselves to have all the answers and in addition to that, it can result inthe client’s finding solutions to their own problems. The most important part of the work ofchild and youth practitioners is being able to develop and maintain healthyrelationships with their clients. Applying empathy is a critical step in causinga practitioner-client relationship to grow and become effective. Shebib statesthat: “empathic attitudes and skills can generate powerful bonds of trust andrapport” (2017, p. 68). A practitioner who takes the time to learn about theirclients’ world’s and does so without judgement, displays that they truly careabout their clients’ well being and that they are someone whom they can dependon. When a client sees genuine care within their practitioner, they are morelikely to break down their trust barriers and embrace the relationship. Harmonyis also created through empathy because clients feel that they have beenunderstood, “when a counselor empathizes with a client, there is often akinship with the person because of a perceived similarity of experiences”(Clark, 2010, p.
349). Feelings of affiliation and validation encouragechildren and youth to deepen the connection that they have with theirpractitioner. There are various types of empathywhich can be used in the child and youth care field. The use of different typesof empathy enhances the client’s counseling experience and reduces the chanceof practitioners being biased.
Shebib explains that: “the three types ofempathy are invitational empathy, basic empathy, and inferred empathy” (2017, p.164). Invitational empathy involves encouraging clients to speak about thefeelings they are experiencing. Basic empathy is when a practitioner”mirrors what the client has explicitly said” (Shebib, 2017, p. 164). Inferredempathy requires a practitioner to decipher a client’s subtle body cues inorder to reach full understanding of their feelings.
During the time spent withtheir practitioners, clients will encounter multiple issues and feelings whichcannot all be dealt with in the same way. For example, if a practitionerchooses to only use basic empathy, they will not be paying attention to theirclients’ cues and will fail to discover their unvoiced feelings. When apractitioner uses all types of empathy, they allow their clients’ to expressthemselves in different ways. Using a mixture of the types of empathy alsoreduces the risk of practitioners being biased towards their clients. Due tothe diverse milieus that child and youth practitioners work in, they will behelping clients of different cultures and backgrounds, in which they may have alimited knowledge of. The use of empathy, however, calls for practitioners togain an understanding of the person as a whole, including their culture andbeliefs, as it, “enables a counselor to assess how an individual clientresponds to influences within his or her particular culture” (Clark, 2010, p.351).
This inhibits practitioners from making assumptions about how they thinka client is supposed to feel or respond in a particular situation. This paper explains that empathy is avital skill to use in the work of child and youth practitioners. The use ofthis skill has proven to have positive impacts on the outcome of clients’treatment, the efficiency of a practitioner’s work and the growth of apractitioner-client relationship.
A lack of empathy however, is confirmed tolead clients down disastrous paths. Overall, the demonstration of empathy hasbeen revealed to have a major impact in the development and treatment ofchildren and youth who struggle with behavioral, cognitive and emotionalissues. Understanding empathy and other relational skills is an essential topicthat child and youth practitioners should continue to discuss and researchfurther.