Whena person perceives, understands, experiences and responds to otherpeople’s emotional state and ideas, it is said that such a personis empathetic. Empathy is an essential condition in the establishmentof relationships in the society. Being able to put one in the shoesof others and take steps to experience the challenges that they facecan prove to be the most worthwhile effort undertaken in trying tounderstand what other people go through. While it is possible tounderstand the feelings of other people, a true empathic skill takesinto perspective the capacity for an emotional attachment(Birkenmaier et al., 2014). Empathy has a sense of incorporation of aclient’s inner perspectives but at the same time retaining personalemotions in a bid to enhance decision making. This illustrates thatthough a social worker strives to travel through a client’s world,he or she does not lose his or her own objectivity. Empathy has alsobeen described as vicarious introspection to mean that a socialworker penetrates the inner world of the clients and at the same timereflects on the feelings invoked. Empathy has also been establishedas an essential ingredient and dispositional trait in thefacilitation of communication skills. The two basic componentsassociated with empathy include affective matching and cognitivecomponent that is concerned with the ability to adopt other people’sperspective.
Affectiveand cognitive are the two primary domains that enhance understandingof empathy in social work practice. The two domains lead tobehavioral expressions. Affective includes the constructs of care tothe target and congruence. Professional care is a specific form ofinterpersonal communication whereby one party applies the principlesof a specific set of knowledge and skills for example counselingwith a goal of improving human condition. Congruence was a dimensionproposed by Rogers and connotes being open, honest and non judgmentalin helping a person. The cognitive dimension takes into perspectivesuch factors as flexibility in decision making and intellectuality,openness in understanding and taking the perspectives of otherpeople. Cognition also inculcates the ability to take another pointof view regardless of the initial perception. It is paramount for asocial worker to try and interpret and understand another person’smental and emotional state if a fruitful conclusion was to beattained in the long run. Altruism and therapeutic relationships aresome of the core behavioral manifestations of empathy involvinginterpersonal motivations and actions. Altruism denotes motivation tobenefit others in situations where the goal is to motivate otherswithout any expectation to receive rewards (Matziari et al., 2016).
Therapeuticrelationship connotes a medium that facilitates the exploration ofdifferent issues, cements hope and nurtures behaviors. Further,therapeutic relationship is a channel through which interventionstrategies are coined. It is argued that the nature and quality oftherapeutic relationships impacts the resultant outcomes and theexperience of clients in a social setup. Similarly a productive andhelping alliance aligns to situations where helpers accept, becomenon-judgmental, supportive and empathic. Empathy stands out as anessential factor in building trust and developing a relationship thatwill stand the test of time. Reliable and effective social workpractice lies on the premise of interpersonal and empathic skills ofthe practitioners (Zibenberg & Kupermintz, 2016). Thus, empathyis central in regard to practice and personality of a therapist. Bothactors in a relationship get to benefit in the event that they adoptempathy.
Selfawareness is an essential component in an empathic experience as onebecomes aware of other people’s feelings and state of emotion inrelation to his or her own emotional state. There are two mainperspectives associated with the aspect of self awareness and itsconnection to empathic experience. The first factor takes intoconsideration empathy as a result of identification that blurs thedifference between self and others. It is important to note thatempathy goes beyond just absorption of other people’s emotions andfeelings as it requires congruence to different situations ("Thepower of empathy: Helen Riess at TEDxMiddlebury", 2016). Thesecond factor is the consideration of empathy to specific resultsfrom a self point of view and allowing one to recognize particularuniqueness that accrue. A good social worker with an empathicpredisposition will always strive to get to a client’s inner worldwhile maintaining emotional distance (Gerdes & Segal, 2011). Anemotional distance in an empathic relationship is significant inensuring that there is preservation of one’s well being andprevention of fatigue.
Agood example two illustrate an empathic relationship can be given byan hypothetical situation involving two people person X and personY. Person X is a social worker while person Y is a client. In theirrelationship, X is trying to aid Y in conquering her personal fearsthat emanate from her feeling disregarded by the family members. Inthis case X tries immensely to fit herself in the shoes of Y in orderto ensure that she understands exactly what Y feels and devise thebest strategy to aid her transformation. X must commence by listeningkeenly and following the utterances of Y. At some point X shouldparaphrase what the client is saying by quoting the main points. Careand compassion are essential in the relationship, X must exhibit careby ensuring that her facial expression and posture consummate withwhat Y is saying. At the same time, she must understand the feelingsof the client and treat her as a whole person and by so doing trustand genuineness will be cemented between the two. A good real lifeexample of an empathic relationship is exhibited when a mother takesher child for a vaccination. In some situations if not in allsituations it is possible to see mothers wince the moment the childis injected. On occasions when the child is crying out of pain somemothers tend to cry as well, however, the mother has to allow thevaccination to take place because it is necessary and vital to thegrowth and development of the baby. The relationship between motherscan be depicted as an empathic relationship owing to the emotionalattachment and emotional distance that accrues.
Socialengagement is not worthwhile if there is no empathic relationship. Atthe same time, it is true to say that a society without empathy isnot livable. What makes the world worth and livable is the extent ofemotional attachment that people exhibit (Gerdes & Segal, 2011).Regardless of race, color, religion or age it is common to see aperson tend to connect with another in the event of pain or joy. Forexample in a situation where a person wins an award, both the personand the audience can shed tears of joy although in a normal setup itis only the primary winner who is supposed to react, but this is notthe case because the audience tends to establish an empathicrelationship with the award winner. Thus, empathic relationships arecritical in social engagement. When working with people the firststep is always to try and get their perspective without jumping intoconclusions (Grant, 2013). Early conclusions tend to impair the realfeelings of the associated persons. The second step is to connectemotionally with the involved persons while maintaining personaljudgment and emotional distance. It is always important to follow upon the conversations and allow moments of silence. Moreover, facialexpressions and posture must coincide with the emotions of theassociated people in order to spur development of trust and createroom for genuineness and open mindedness.
Birkenmaier,J., Berg-Weger, M., & Dewees, M. (2014). ThePractice of Generalist Social Work.
Gerdes,K. & Segal, E. (2011). Importance of Empathy for Social WorkPractice: Integrating New Science. SocialWork, 56(2),141-148. http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/sw/56.2.141
Grant,L. (2013). Hearts and Minds: Aspects of Empathy and Wellbeing inSocial Work Students. SocialWork Education, 33(3),338-352. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02615479.2013.805191
Matziari,A., Montgomery, A., Georganta, K., & Doulougeri, K. (2016). TheRelationship between Organizational Practices and Values with Burnoutand Engagement. CurrentPsychology.http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s12144-016-9413-7
Thepower of empathy: Helen Riess at TEDxMiddlebury.(2016). YouTube.Retrieved 8 November 2016, fromhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=baHrcC8B4WM
Zibenberg,A. & Kupermintz, H. (2016). Personal Values and IntergroupEmpathy. Journalof Human Values, 22(3),180-193. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0971685816650584