Carl Ransom Rogers(January
8, 1902 – February 4, 1987) was an influential
"American psychologist and among the founders of the humanistic
approach to psychology. Rogers is widely considered to be one of the
founding fathers of psychotherapy research and was honored for his
pioneering research with the Award for Distinguished Scientific
Contributions by the American Psychological Association in 1956.
He was very influential in the exploration
of empathy. Much of the empathy work in psychology and psychotherapy
is based on his work on empathy and reflective listening.
Carl Rogers Wiki
"The purpose of this wiki is to provide an insight and understanding of
the personality Psychologist Carl Rogers. Who he was, what he did, who
influenced him and who he influenced. Click on any topic of interest in
the navigation panel on the left to find the information you require.
One of the best ways to understand the sort of person he was is to hear
what those who knew him had to say about him."
Empathic: An Unappreciated Way of Being - 1975, (see
text and videos below.)
"It is my thesis in this paper that we should re-examine and re-evaluate
that very special way of being with another person which has been called
empathic. I believe we tend to give too little consideration to an
element which is extremely important both for the understanding of
personality dynamics and for effecting changes in personality and
behavior. It is one of the most delicate and powerful ways we have of
using ourselves. In spite of all that has been said and written on this
topic, it is a way of being which is rarely seen in full bloom in a
relationship. I will start with my own somewhat faltering history in
relation to this topic."
Accurate Empathic Understanding
"Accurate empathic understanding means that the therapist is
completely at home in the universe of the patient. It is a
moment-to-moment sensitivity that is in the “here and now,” the
immediate present. it is a sensing of the client’s inner world of
private personal meanings “as if” it were the therapist’s own, but
without ever losing the “as if” quality. Accurate sensitivity to the
client’s “being” is of primary value in the moment-to-moment
encounter of therapy; it is of limited use to the individual if the
therapist only arrives at this insightful and empathic understanding
of the patient’s experience as he drives home at night. Such a delayed
empathy or insight may be of value if the therapist has a later chance
to respond to the same theme, but its value would lie in formulating
his empathic response to the patient’s immediate living of the
Reflections of Feelings **
"Although I am partially responsible for the use of this term to
describe a certain type of therapist response, I have, over the years,
become very unhappy with it. A major reason is that "reflection of
feelings" has not infrequently been taught as a technique, and
sometimes a very wooden technique at that. On the basis of written
client expressions, the learner is expected to concoct a "correct"
reflection of feeling - or even worse, to select the "correct"
response from a multiple-choice list. Such training has very little to
do with an effective therapeutic relationship. So I have become more
and more allergic to the use of the term....
I have come to a double insight. From my point of view
as therapist, I am not trying to "reflect feelings". I am trying to
determine whether my understanding of the client's inner world is
correct - whether I am seeing it as s/he is experiencing it at this
moment. Each response of mine contains the unspoken question, ‘Is this
the way it is in you? Am I catching just the colour and texture and
flavour of the personal meaning you are experiencing right now? If
not, I wish to bring my perception in line with yours’." [Note: has a interesting metaphor of listening. There were
criticisms of reflective listening, need to find a way of more clearly
naming what it is and how it works. It's a way to see each other
more clearly and more deeply.]
"I should like to propose, as a hypothesis for
consideration, that the major barrier to mutual interpersonal
our very natural tendency to judge,
to approve (or disapprove) the statement of the
other person or group. ...
"Is there any way of solving this problem, of avoiding
this barrier? I feel that we are making exciting progress toward this
goal and I should like to present it as simply as I can. Real
communication occurs, and this evaluative tendency is avoided, when we
listen with understanding. What does this mean? It means to see the
expressed idea and attitude form the other person’s point of view, to
sense how it feels to him, to achieve his frame of reference in regard
to the thing he is talking about. "
" Each person can speak up for himself only after he
has restated the ideas and feelings
of the previous speaker accurately and to that person’s satisfaction."
"You see what this would mean. It would simply mean
that before presenting your own point of view, it would be necessary
for you to achieve the other speakers frame of reference – to
understand his thoughts and feelings so well that you could summarise
them for him. Sounds simple doesn’t it? But if you try it, you will
discover that it is one of the most difficult things you have ever
tried to do. However, once you have been able to see the others point
of view, your own comments will have to be drastically revised. You
will also find the emotion going out of the discussion, the
differences being reduced, and those differences which remain being of
a rational and understandable sort..."
" why is it not more widely tried and used?... I
will try and list the difficulties which keep it from being
The risk of being changed
[society is not ready for it yet. Need some sort of
an societal event that is a catalyst. He mentions the Lindbergh
flight across the Atlantic was the catalyst for getting aviation
going in a big way.]
Experiences in Communication
"The first simple feeling I want to share with you is
my enjoyment when I can really hear someone. I think perhaps this has
been a long-standing characteristic of mine. I can remember this in my
early grammar school days. A child would ask the teacher a question
and the teacher would give a perfectly good answer to a completely
different question. A feeling of pain and distress would always strike
me. My reaction was, "But you didn't hear him!" I felt a sort of
childish despair at the lack of communication which was (and is) so
I believe I know why it is satisfying to me to hear someone. When I
can really hear someone, it puts me in touch with him; it enriches my
life. It is through hearing people that I have learned all that I know
about individuals, about personality, about interpersonal
tendency to react to any emotionally meaningful statement by forming
an evaluation of it from our own point of view, is, I repeat, the
major barrier to interpersonal communication.
But is there any way of solving this problem, of avoiding this
barrier? I feel that we are making exciting progress toward this goal
and I would like to present it as simply as I can. Real communication
occurs, and this evaluative tendency is avoided, when we listen with
understanding. What does this mean? It means to see the expressed idea
and attitude from the other person's point of view, to sense how it
feels to him, to achieve his frame of reference in regard to the thing
he is talking about.
so briefly, this may sound absurdly simple, but it is not. It is an
approach which we have found extremely potent in the field of
psychotherapy. It is the most effective agent we know for altering the
basic personality structure of an individual, and improving his
relationships and his communications with others. If I can listen to
what he can tell me, if I can understand how it seems to him; if I can
see its personal meaning for him, if I can sense the emotional flavor
which it has for him, then I will be releasing potent forces of change
The next time you get into an argument
with your wife, or your friend, or with a small group of friends, just
stop the discussion for a moment and for an experiment, institute this
rule. "Each person can speak up for himself only after he has first
restated the ideas and feelings of the previous speaker accurately,
and to that speaker's satisfaction." "
Empathy can be just a word, just mean listening, or
it can be an exceedingly intense attempt to capture or understand the
inner world of the person you’re dealing with – with all the nuances
of feeling and meaning and so on which are real for him or her -- not
for you but for him or her.
That’s particularly evident when you’re dealing with
someone of a different culture, where their attitudes toward the
family for example, are different from your own, or their attitudes
towards the opposite sex are quite different from your own. Can you
catch the attitude or feeling that person has and understand it as it
is in him or her? It’s a very demanding task. And the notion of just
listening is far from catching what it contains. And then in
responding empathically…I don’t quite remember how the phrase,
“reflection of feeling” got started but I don’t like it; it’s too
shallow, much too shallow."
"..[empathy] It’s saying this, “I’m trying to be a companion to you in
your search and your exploration. I want to know, am I with you? Is
this the way it seems to you? Is this the thing you’re trying to
express? Is this the meaning it has for you?” So in a sense I’m
saying, “I’m walking with you step by step, and I want to make sure I
am with you. Am I with you?” So that’s a little bit of my
understanding about empathy."
A Way of Being
"The third facilitative aspect of the relationship is empathic
understanding. This means that the therapist senses accurately the
feelings and personal meanings that the client is experiencing and
communicates this understanding to the client. When functioning best,
the therapist is so much inside the private world of the other that he
or she can clarify not only the meanings of which the client is aware
but even those just below the level of awareness. This kind of
sensitive, active listening is exceedingly rare in our lives. We think
we listen, but very rarely do we listen with real understanding, true
empathy. Yet listening, of this very special kind, is one of the most
potent forces for change that I know.”
“How does this climate which I have just described bring about
change? Briefly, as persons are accepted and prized, they tend to
develop a more caring attitude toward themselves. As persons
are empathetically heard, it becomes possible for them to listen more
accurately to the flow of inner experiencings. But as a person
understands and prizes self, the self becomes more congruent with the
experiencings. The person thus becomes more real, more genuine. These
tendencies, the reciprocal of the therapist's attitudes, enable the
person to be a more effective growth-enhancer for himself or herself.
There is a greater freedom to be the true, whole person.”
"This sensitive empathy is so
deep that my intuition takes over at one point and, in a way that
seems mysterious, is in touch with a very important part of her with
which she has lost contact. At this point we are perhaps in a mutual
and reciprocal altered state of consciousness." p150
"The fifth condition is that the therapist is experiencing an
accurate, empathic understanding of the client's awareness of his own
experience. To sense the client's private world as if it were your own, but without ever losing the “as if” quality—this is empathy, and
this seems essential to therapy. To sense the client's anger, fear, or
confusion as if it were your own, yet without your own anger, fear, or
confusion getting bound up in it, is the condition we are endeavoring
to describe. When the client's world is this clear to the therapist,
and he moves about in it freely, then he can both communicate his
understanding of what is clearly known to the client and can also
voice meanings in the client's experience of which the client is
scarcely aware. As one client described this second aspect:
and again, with me in a tangle of thought and feeling, screwed up in a
web of mutually divergent lines of movement, with impulses from
different parts of me, and me feeling the feeling of its being all too
much and suchlike—then whomp, just like a sunbeam thrusting its way
through cloudbanks and tangles of foliage to spread a circle of light
on a tangle of forest paths, came some comment from you. [It was]
clarity, even disentanglement, an additional twist to the picture, a
putting in place. Then the consequence—the sense of moving on, the
relaxation. These were sunbeams.” That such penetrating empathy is
important for therapy is indicated by Fiedler's research (3) in which
items such as the following placed high in the description of
relationships created by experienced therapists: The therapist is well
able to understand the patient's feelings...."
A Discussion Between Carl Rogers and Gay Barfield
“It is necessary to be delicate, to have respect for the unknown, to
be a non-judgmental companion.” Recorded at Rogers’ home, Carl and Gay
discuss the practice of empathy as a way of being and experiencing.
Empathy is at the heart of the international peace dialogues they are
planning. They ponder its applicability in face-to-face relationships,
marriage, group and international conflict.
Rogers, Carl. 1986b. "Reflection of Feelings,"Person-Centered
1, no. 4.
I have come to a double insight. From my point of view
as therapist, I amnottrying
to "reflect feelings." I am trying to determine whether my
understanding of the client's inner world is correct — whether I am
seeing it as he or she is experiencing it at this moment. Each
response of mine contains the unspoken question, "Is this the way it
is in you? Am I catching just the color and texture and flavor of the
personal meaning you are experiencing right now? If not, I wish to
bring my perception in line with yours."
On the other hand, I know that from the client's point
of view we are holding up a mirror of his or her current experiencing.
The feelings and personal meanings seem sharper when seen through the
eyes of another, when they are reflected. (1986b)
I am trying to determine whether my understanding of
the client's inner world is correct - whether I am seeing it as s/he
is experiencing it at this moment. Each response of mine contains the
unspoken question, ‘Is this the way it is in you? Am I catching just
the colour and texture and flavour of the personal meaning you are
experiencing right now? If not, I wish to bring my perception in line
with yours’. On the other hand, I know that from the client's point of
view we are holding up a mirror of his/her current experiencing. The
feelings and personal meanings seem
sharper when seen through the eyes of another, when they are
reflected. So I suggest that these therapist responses be
labeled not ‘Reflections of Feeling’, but ‘Testing Understandings’, or
Carl Rogers, Freedom to Learn, pp.
"A further element that establishes a climate for self-initiated,
experiential learning is empathetic understanding. When the
teacher has the ability to understand the student’s reactions from the
inside, has a sensitive awareness of the way the process of education
and learning seems to the student, then again the likelihood of
significant learning is increased.
This kind of understanding is different from the usual evaluative
understanding, which follows the pattern of “I understand what is
wrong with you.” When there is a sensitive empathy, however, the
reaction in the learner follows something of this pattern,” At last
someone understands how it feels and seems to me without wanting to
analyze me or judge me. Now I can blossom and grow and learn.”
This attitude of standing in the other’s shoes, of viewing the
world through the student’s eyes, is almost unheard of in the
classroom. One could listen to thousands of ordinary classroom
interactions without coming across one instance of clearly
communicated, sensitively accurate, empathic understanding. But it has
a tremendously releasing effect when [...] students feel … they are
simply understood, not evaluated, not judged, simply understood from
their own point of view, not the teacher’s.
If any teacher set herself the task of endeavoring to make one
non-evaluative, accepting, empathic response per day to a student’s
demonstrated or verbalized feeling, I believe she should discover the
potency of this currently almost nonexistent kind of understanding."
It is my thesis in this paper that we should re-examine and re-evaluate
that very special way of being with another person which has been called
empathic. I believe we tend to give too little consideration to an
element which is extremely important both for the understanding of
personality dynamics and for effecting changes in personality and
behavior. It is one of the most delicate and powerful ways we have of
using ourselves. In spite of all that has been said and written on this
topic, it is a way of being which is rarely seen in full bloom in a
relationship. I will start with my own somewhat faltering history in
relation to this topic.
Very early in my work as a therapist I discovered that simply listening
to my client, very attentively, was an important way of being helpful.
So when I was in doubt as to what I should do, in some active way, I
listened. It seemed surprising to me that such a passive kind of
interaction could be so useful.
A little later a social worker, who had a background of Rankian
training, helped me to learn that the most effective approach was to
listen for the feelings, the emotions whose patterns could be discerned
through the client's words. I believe she was the one who suggested that
the best response was to "reflect" these feelings back to the client--
"reflect" becoming in time a word which made me cringe. But at that time
it improved my work as therapist, and I was grateful.
Then came my transition to a full-time university position where, with
the help of students, I was at last able to scrounge equipment for
recording our interviews. I cannot exaggerate the excitement of our
learnings as we clustered about the machine which enabled us to listen
to ourselves, playing over and over some puzzling point at which the
interview clearly went wrong, or those moments in which the client moved
significantly forward. (I still regard this as the one best way of
learning to improve oneself as a therapist.) Among many lessons from
these recordings, we came to realize that listening to feelings and
"reflecting" them was a vastly complex process. We discovered that we
could pinpoint the therapist response which caused a fruitful flow of
significant expression to become superficial and unprofitable. Likewise
we were able to spot the remark which turned a client's dull and
desultory talk into a focused self- exploration.
In such a context of learning it became quite natural to lay more stress
upon the content of the therapist response than upon the empathic
quality of the listening. To this extent we became heavily conscious of
the techniques which the counselor or therapist was using. We became
expert in analyzing, in very minute detail, the ebb and flow of the
process in each interview, and gained a great deal from that microscopic study. But this tendency to
focus on the therapist's responses had consequences which appalled me. I
had met hostility, but these reactions were worse. The whole approach
came, in a few years, to be known as a technique. "Nondirective
therapy," it was said, "is the technique of reflecting the client's
feelings." Or an even worse caricature was simply that, "in nondirective
therapy you repeat the last words the client has said." I was so shocked
by these complete distortions of our approach that for a number of years
I said almost nothing about empathic listening, and when I did it was to
stress an empathic attitude, with little comment as to how this might be
implemented in the relationship. I preferred to discuss the qualities of
positive regard and therapist congruence, which together with empathy I
hypothesized as promoting the therapeutic process. They too were often
misunderstood, but at least not caricatured.
The Current Need
Over the years, however, the research evidence keeps piling up, and it
points strongly to the conclusion that a high degree of empathy in a
relationship is possibly the most potent and certainly one of the most
potent factors in bringing about change and learning. And so I believe
it is time for me to forget the caricatures and misrepresentations of
the past and take a fresh look at empathy.
[Therapist Expertise Directed Processes]
For still another reason it seems timely to do this. In the United
States during the past decade or two many new approaches to therapy have
held center stage. Gestalt therapy, psychodrama, primal therapy, bio-energetics,
rational-emotive therapy, transactional analysis are some of the best
known, but there are more. Part of their appeal lies in the fact that in
most instances the therapist is clearly the expert, actively
manipulating the situation, often in dramatic ways, for the client's
benefit. If I read the signs correctly I believe there is a decrease in
the fascination with such expertise in guidance.
With another approach based on expertise, behavior therapy, I believe
interest and fascination are still on the increase. A technological
society has been delighted to have found a technology by which a man's
behavior can be shaped, even without his knowledge or approval, toward
goals selected by the therapist, or by society. Yet even here much
questioning by thoughtful individuals is springing up as the
philosophical and political implications of "behavior mod" become more
clearly visible. So I have seen a willingness on the part of many to
take another look at ways of being with people which evoke self-directed
change, which locate power in the person, not the expert, and this
brings me again to examine carefully what we mean by empathy and what we
have come to know about it. Perhaps the time is ripe for its value to be
Early Definitions (of Empathy 1959)
Many definitions have been given of the term and I myself have set forth
several. More than twenty years ago (though not published until 1959) I
attempted to give a highly rigorous definition as part of a formal
statement of my concepts and theory. It went as follows:
The state of empathy, or being empathic, is to perceive the internal
frame of reference of another with accuracy and with the emotional
components and meanings which pertain thereto as if one were the person,
but without ever losing the 'as if’ condition. Thus it means to sense
the hurt or
the pleasure of another as he senses it and to perceive the causes
thereof as he perceives them, but without ever losing the recognition
that it is as if I were hurt or pleased and so forth. It this 'as if'
quality is lost, then the state is one of identification (Rogers, 1959,
pp. 210-211. See also Rogers, 1957)
Experiencing as a Useful Construct
To formulate a current description I would want to draw on the concept
of experiencing as formulated by Gendlin (1962). This concept has
enriched our thinking in various ways as will be evident in this paper.
Briefly it is his view that at all times there is going on in the human
organism a flow of experiencings to which the individual can turn again
and again as a referent in order to discover the meaning of his
experience. He sees empathy as pointing sensitively to the "felt
meaning" which the client is experiencing in this particular moment, in
order to help him focus on that meaning and to carry it further to its
full and uninhibited experiencing.
An example may make more clear both the concept and its relation to
empathy. A man in an encounter group has been making vaguely negative
statements about his father.
The facilitator says, "it sounds as though you might be angry at your
He replies, "No, I don't think so." "Possibly dissatisfied with him?"
"Well, yes, perhaps," (said rather doubtfully).
"Maybe you're disappointed in him."
Quickly the man responds, "That's it! I am disappointed that he's not a
strong person. I think I've always been disappointed in him ever since I
was a boy."
Against what is the man checking these terms for their correctness?
Gendlin's view, with which I concur, is that he is checking them against
the ongoing psycho-physiological flow within himself to see if they fit.
This flow is a very real thing, and people are able to use it as a
referent. In this case "angry" doesn't match the felt meaning at all;
"dissatisfied" comes closer, but is not really correct; "disappointed"
matches it exactly, and encourages a further flow of the experiencing,
as often happens. [Note: why does this flow happen?]
A Current Definition
With this conceptual background, let me attempt a description of empathy
which would seem satisfactory to me today. I would no longer be terming
it a "state of empathy," because I believe it to be a process, rather
than a state. Perhaps I can capture that quality.
The way of being with another person which is termed empathic has
several facets. [Note: Feeling your way into the others experience?]
1. It means entering the private perceptual world of the other and
becoming thoroughly at home in it.
2. It involves being sensitive, moment to moment, to the changing felt
meanings which flow in this other person, to the fear or rage or
tenderness or confusion or whatever, that he/she is experiencing.
3. It means temporarily living in his/her life, moving about in it
delicately without making judgments, sensing meanings of which he/she is
scarcely aware, but not trying to uncover feelings of which the person
is totally unaware, since this would be too threatening.
4. [Reflective empathy?] It includes communicating your sensings of
his/her world as you look with fresh and unfrightened eyes at elements
of which the individual is fearful. It means frequently checking with
him/ her as to the accuracy of your sensings, and being guided by the
responses you receive.
5. You are a confident companion to the person in his/her inner world.
By pointing to the possible meaning in the flow of his/her experiencing
you help the person
a. to focus on this useful type of referent, b. to experience the meanings more fully, and
c. to move forward in the experiencing.
[Note: why do we move forward in the experiencing, just by sharing it?
There’s something about the human need to express the inner experience,
to have it flow. Brenda Ueland and the metaphor of the fountain.
Somehow, the fountain gets plugged up. ]
6. To be with another in this way means that for the time being you lay
aside the views and values you hold for yourself in order to enter
another's world without prejudice. In some sense it means that you lay
aside yourself and this can only be done by a person who is secure
enough in himself that he knows he will not get lost in what may turn
out to be the strange or bizarre world of the other, and can comfortably
return to his own world when he wishes
Perhaps this description makes clear that being empathic is a complex,
demanding, strong yet subtle and gentle way of being.
The foregoing description is hardly an operational definition, suitable
for use in research. Yet such operational definitions have been
formulated and widely used.
Barrett-Lennard Relationship Inventory There is the Barrett-Lennard Relationship Inventory, to be filled out by
the parties to the relationship, in which empathy is defined
operationally by the items used. Some of the items from this instrument,
indicating the range from empathic to non-empathic, follow:
He appreciates what my experience feels like to me.
He understands what I say from a detached, objective point of view.
He understands my words but not the way I feel.
Barrett-Lennard also has a specific conceptual formulation of empathy
upon which he based his items. While it definitely overlaps with the
definition given, it is sufficiently different to warrant its quotation:
[Definition] Qualitatively it [empathic understanding]
is an active
process of desiring to know the full, present and changing awareness of
another person, of reaching out to receive his communication and
meaning, and of translating his words and signs into experienced meaning
that matches at least those aspects of his awareness that are most
important to him at the moment. It is an experiencing of the
consciousness 'behind' another's outward communication, but with
continuous awareness that this consciousness is originating and
proceeding in the other (Barrett- Lennard, 1962).
Accurate Empathy Scale - Truax
Then there is the Accurate Empathy Scale, devised by Truax and others
for use by raters (Truax,
1967). Even small portions of recorded interviews can be reliably rated
by this scale. The nature of the scale may be indicated by giving the
definition of Stage 1, which is the lowest level of empathic
understanding, and Stage 8, which is a very high (though not the
highest) degree of empathy.
Here is Stage 1: Therapist seems completely unaware of even the most
conspicuous of the client's feelings. His responses are not appropriate
to the mood and content of the client's feelings. His responses are not
appropriate to the mood and content of the client's statements and there
is no determinable quality of empathy, hence, no accuracy whatsoever.
The therapist may be bored and disinterested or actively offering
advice, but he is not communicating an awareness of the client's current
feelings (Truax, 1967, pp. 556-7).
Stage 8 is defined as follows: Therapist accurately interprets all the
client's present acknowledged feelings. He also uncovers the most deeply
shrouded of the client's feeling areas, voicing meanings in the client's
experience of which the client is scarcely aware ... He moves into
feelings and experiences that are only hinted at by the client and does
so with sensitivity and accuracy. The content that comes to life may be
new but it is not alien. While the therapist in Stage 8 makes mistakes,
mistakes do not have a jarring note but are covered by the tentative
character of the response. Also the therapist is sensitive to his
mistakes and quickly alters or changes his responses in midstream,
indicating that he more clearly knows what is being talked about and
what is being sought after in the client's own explorations. The
therapist reflects a togetherness with the patient in tentative trial
and error exploration. His voice tone reflects the seriousness and depth
of his empathic grasp. (Truax,1967, p. 566).
I have wished to indicate by these examples that the empathic process
can be defined in
Even so, we have not reached the limits of its base.
A Definition for Contemporary
Eugene Gendlin and others have recently been involved in a helping
community enterprise called "Changes" which has many implications for
dealing with the alienated and counter-culture members of the chaos
which we call urban living. Of particular interest here is the "Rap
Manual" which has been developed to aid the ordinary person in learning
"how to help with the other person's process."
This Manual starts out with a section on "Absolute Listening." Some
excerpts give the flavor: This is not laying trips on people. You only
listen and say back the other person's thing, step by
step, just as that person seems to have it at that moment. You never mix
into it any of your own things or ideas, never lay on the other person
anything that person didn't express ... To show that you understand
exactly, make a sentence or two which gets exactly at the personal
meaning this person wanted to put across. This might be in your own
words, usually, but use that person's own words for the touchy main
things (Gendlin and Hendricks, undated).
It continues in this same vein, with many detailed suggestions,
including ideas on "How to know when you're doing it right."
So it seems clear that an empathic way of being, though highly subtle
conceptually, can also be described in terms which are perfectly
understandable by contemporary youth, or citizens of a beleaguered inner
city. It is a broad-ranging conception.
General Research Findings
What have we come to know about empathy through research based on the
instruments mentioned above, and others which have been devised? The
answer is that we have learned a great deal and I will try to present
some of these learnings, giving first some of the general findings which
are of interest. I will reserve until later an analysis of the effects
of an empathic climate on the dynamics and behavior of the recipient.
Here then are some of the general statements which can be made with
* The ideal therapist is first of
[Note: the ideal friend is first of all empathic.]
When psychotherapists of many different orientations describe their
concept of the ideal therapist, the therapist they would like to
become, they are in high agreement in giving empathy the highest
ranking out of twelve variables. This statement is based on a study by
Raskin (1974) of 83 practicing therapists of at least eight different
therapeutic approaches. The definition of the empathic quality was
very similar to that used in this paper. This study corroborates and
strengthens an earlier research by Fiedler (1950b). So we may conclude
that therapists recognize that the most important factor in being a
therapist is "trying, as sensitively and as accurately as he can, to
understand the client, from the latter's own point of view"
* Empathy is correlated with self-exploration and process movement.
It has been learned that a relationship climate with a high degree of
empathy is associated with various aspects of process and progress in
the therapy. Such a climate is definitely related to a high degree of
self- exploration in the client .
(Bergin and Strupp, 1972; Kurtz and Grummon, 1972; Tausch, Bastine,
Friese and Sander, 1970).
* Empathy early in the relationship predicts later success.
The degree of empathy which exists and will exist in the relationship
can be determined very early, in the fifth or even the second
interview. Such early measurements are predictive of the later success
or lack of success in therapy (Barrett-Lennard, 1962; Tausch, 1973).
The implication of these findings is that we could avoid a great deal
of unsuccessful therapy, by measuring the therapist's empathy early
* The client comes to perceive more empathy in successful cases.
In successful cases, the client's perception of the empathic quality
in the relationship, and that quality as rated by objective judges,
increases over time, although the increase is not very great
(Cartwright and Lerner, 1966; Van Der Veen, 1970).
* Understanding is provided by the therapist
[friend], not drawn
We know that empathy is something offered by the therapist, and not
simply elicited by some particular type of client (Tausch, et al,
1970; Truax and Carkhuff, 1967). There have been speculations to the
contrary, that an appealing or seductive client might be responsible
for drawing understanding from the therapist. The evidence does not
support this. Indeed, the degree of empathy in a relationship can be
rather accurately inferred simply by listening to the therapist
responses, without any knowledge of the client's statements (Quinn,
1953). So if an empathic climate exists in a relationship, the
probability is high that the therapist is responsible.
* The more experienced the therapist [friend], the more likely he
is to be empathic.
Experienced therapists offer a higher degree of empathy to their
clients than less experienced, whether we are assessing this quality
through the client's perception or through the ears of qualified
judges (Barrett- Lennard, 1962; Fiedler, 1949, 1950a; Mullen and
Abeles, 1972). Evidently therapists do learn, as the years go by, to
come closer to their ideal of a therapist, and to be more sensitively
* Empathy is a special quality in a relationship, and therapists
offer definitely more of it than even helpful friends
[Note: ?How about training friends in empathy circles?] (Van Der Veen, 1970). This is reassuring.
* The better integrated the therapist [friend]
is within himself, the
higher the degree of empathy he exhibits.
Personality disturbance in the therapist goes along with a lower
empathic understanding, but when he is free from discomfort and
confident in interpersonal relationships, he offers more of
understanding (Bergin and Jasper, 1969; Bergin and Solomon, 1970). As
I have considered this evidence, and also my own experience in the
training of therapists, I come to the somewhat uncomfortable
conclusion that the more psychologically mature and integrated the
therapist is as a person, the more helpful is the relationship he
provides. This puts a heavy demand on the therapist as a person.
* Experienced therapists often fall far short of being empathic.
In spite of what has been said of experienced therapists, they differ
sharply in the degree of empathy they offer. Raskin (1974) showed that
when the recorded interviews of six experienced therapists were rated
by other experienced therapists, the differences on twelve variables
were significant at the .001 level, and empathy was second in the
extent of difference. The outstanding characteristic of the client-
centered therapist was his empathy. Other approaches had as their
outstanding characteristic their cognitive quality, or
therapist-directedness, and the like. So, though therapists regarded
empathic listening as the most important element in their ideal, in
their actual practice they often fall far short of this. In fact the
ratings of the recorded interviews of these six expert therapists by
83 other therapists came up with a surprising finding. In only two
cases did the work of the experts correlate positively with the
description of the ideal therapist. In four cases the correlation was
negative, the most extreme being a -.66! So much for therapy as it is
* Clients are better judges of the degree of empathy than are
Perhaps then it is not too surprising that therapists prove to be
rather inaccurate in assessing their own degree of empathy in a
relationship. The client's perception of this quality agrees rather
well with that of unbiased judges listening to the recordings, but the
agreement between clients and therapists, or judges and therapists, is
low (Rogers, Gendlin, Kiesier and Truax, 1967, Chs. 5, 8). Perhaps, if
we wish to become better therapists, we should let our clients tell us
whether we are understanding them accurately!
* Brilliance and diagnostic perceptiveness are unrelated to
It is important to know that the degree to which the therapist creates
an empathic climate is not related to his academic performance or
intellectual competence (Bergin and Jasper, 1969; Bergin and Solomon,
1970). Neither is it related to the accuracy of his perception of the
individual or his diagnostic competence. In fact it may be negatively
related to the latter (Fiedler, 1953). This is a most important
finding. If neither academic brilliance nor diagnostic skill is
significant, then clearly an empathic quality belongs in a different
realm of discourse from most clinical thinking-- psychological and
psychiatric. I believe we are reluctant to accept the implications.
* An empathic way of being can be learned from empathic persons.
Perhaps the most important statement of all is that the ability to be
accurately empathic is something which can be developed by training.
Therapists, parents and teachers can be helped to become empathic.
This is especially likely to occur if their teachers and supervisors
are themselves individuals of sensitive understanding (Aspy, 1972;
Aspy and Roebuck, 1975; Bergin and Solomon, 1970; Blocksma,1951;
Guerney, Andronico and Guerney, 1970).
It is most encouraging to know that this subtle, elusive quality, of
utmost importance in therapy, is not something one is "born with", but
can be learned, and learned most rapidly in an empathic climate. Perhaps
only two basic elements or therapeutic effectiveness can profit from
cognitive and experiential training: empathy and congruence.
[NOTE: Learning empathy - Create an empathic environment for learning
empathy. A workshop. Find the most empathic people around and make them
=== Part 2A
The Consequences of an Empathic Climate
So much for the knowledge which has been gained about empathy. But what
effects do a series of deeply empathic responses have upon the
recipient? Here the evidence is quite overwhelming. Empathy is clearly
related to positive outcome. From schizophrenic patients to pupils in
ordinary classrooms; from clients of a counseling center to teachers in
training; from neurotics in Germany to neurotics in the United States,
the evidence is the same, and it indicates that the more the therapist
or teacher is sensitively understanding, the more likely is constructive
learning and change (Aspy, 1972, Ch. 4; Aspy and Roebuck, 1975; Barrett-Lennard,
1962; Bergin and Jasper, 1969; Bergin and Strupp, 1972; Halkides, 1958;
Kurtz and Grummon, 1972; Mullen and Abeles, 1971; Rogers, et al, 1967,
Chs. 5, 9; Tausch, Bastine, Bommert, Minsel and Nickel,1972; Tausch, et al, 1970; Truax, 1966). As stated by Bergin and Strupp
(1972), various studies "demonstrate a positive correlation between
therapist empathy, patient self-exploration, and independent criteria of
patient change" (p. 25).
Yet I believe far too little attention has been given these findings.
This deceptively simple empathic interaction which we have been
discussing has many and profound consequences. I want to discuss these at some length. [Benefits]
* In the first place, it dissolves alienation.
For the moment, at least, the recipient finds himself/ herself a
connected part of the human race. Though it may not be articulated
clearly, the experience goes something like this. "I have been talking
about hidden things, partly veiled even from myself, feelings that are
strange, possibly abnormal, feelings I have never communicated to
another, nor even clearly to myself. And yet he has understood,
understood them even more clearly than I do. If he knows that I am
talking about, what I mean, then to this degree I am not so strange, or
alien, or set apart. I make sense to another human being. So I am in
touch with, even in relationship with, others. I am no longer an
Perhaps this explains one of the major findings of our study of
psychotherapy with schizophrenics. We found that those patients
receiving from their therapists a high degree of accurate empathy as
rated by unbiased judges, showed the sharpest reduction in
schizophrenicpathology as measured by the MMPI (Rogers, et al, 1967, p.
85). This suggests that the sensitive understanding by another may have
been the most potent element in bringing the schizophrenic out of his
estrangement, and into the world of relatedness. Jung has said that the
schizophrenic ceases to be schizophrenic when he meets someone by whom
he feels understood. Our study provides empirical evidence in support of
Other studies, both of schizophrenics and of counseling center clients,
show that low empathy is related to a slight worsening in adjustment or
pathology. Here, too, the findings make sense. It is as if the
individual concludes "If no one understands me, if no one can grasp what
these experiences are like, then I am indeed in a bad way more abnormal
than I thought." One of Laing's patients states this vividly in
describing earlier contacts with psychiatrists:
It's a most terrifying feeling to realize that the doctor can't see the
real you, that he can't understand what you feel and that he's just
going ahead with his own ideas. I would start to feel that I was
invisible or maybe not there at all (Laing, 1965, p. 166).
* Another meaning of empathic understanding to the recipient is that
someone values him, cares, accepts the person that he is.
[Note: we feel cared about] It might seem that we have here stepped into another area, and that we
are no longer speaking of empathy. But this is not so. It is impossible
accurately to sense the perceptual world of another person unless you
value that person and his world - unless you in some sense care. Hence
the message comes through to the recipient that "this other individual
trusts me, thinks I'm worthwhile. Perhaps I am worth something. Perhaps
I could value myself. Perhaps I could care for myself."
A vivid example of this comes from a young man who has been a recipient
of much sensitive understanding, and who is now in the later stages of
Client: I could even conceive of it as
a possibility that I could have a kind of tender concern for me.
Still, how could I be tender, be concerned for myself, when they're
one and the same thing? But yet I can feel it so clearly. You know,
like taking care of a child. You want to give it this and give it
that. I can kind of clearly see the purposes for somebody else but I
can never see them for myself, that I could do this for me, you know.
Is it possible that I can really want to take care of myself, and make
that a major purpose of my life? That means I'd have to deal with the
whole world as it I were guardian of the most cherished and most
wanted possession, that this / was between this precious me that I
wanted to take care of and the whole world It's almost as if I loved
myself - you know - that's strange but it's true.
Therapist: It seems such a strange concept to realize. It would mean
'I would face the world as though a part of my primary responsibility
was taking care of this precious individual who is me - whom I love.'
Client: Whom I care for--whom I feel so close to. Woof! That's another
Therapist: It just seems weird.
Client: Yeah. It hits rather close somehow. The idea of my loving me
and the taking care of me. (His eyes grow moist.) That's a very nice
one very nice.
It is, I believe, the therapist's caring understanding--exhibited in
this excerpt as well as previously--which has permitted this client to
experience a high regard, even a love, for himself.
*Still another impact of a sensitive understanding comes from its
nonjudgmental quality. The highest expression of empathy is accepting
[Note: Removes judgment, can be yourself and more self acceptance] This is true because it is impossible to be accurately perceptive of
another's inner world, if you have formed an evaluative opinion of him.
If you doubt this statement, choose someone you know with whom you
deeply disagree, and who is in your judgment definitely wrong or
mistaken. Now try to state his views, beliefs, feelings, so accurately
that he will agree that this is a sensitively correct description of his
stance. I predict that nine times out of ten you will fail, because your
judgment of his views creeps into your description of them.
Consequently, true empathy is always free of any evaluative or
diagnostic quality. This comes across to the recipient with some
surprise. "If I am not being judged, perhaps I am not so evil or
abnormal as I have thought. Perhaps I don't have to judge myself so
harshly." Thus gradually the possibility of self-acceptance is
There comes to mind a psychologist whose interest in psychotherapy
started as a result of his research in visual perception. In this
research many students were interviewed and asked to relate their visual
and perceptual history, including any difficulties in seeing, in
reading, their reaction to wearing glasses, etc. The psychologist simply
listened with interest, made no judgments on what he was hearing, and
completed the gathering of his data. To his amazement, a number of these
students returned spontaneously to thank him for all the help he had
given them. He had, in his opinion, given them no help at all. But it
forced him to recognize that interested non- evaluative listening was a
potent therapeutic force, even when directed at a narrow sector of life,
and when there was no intent of being helpful.
Perhaps another way of putting some of what I have been saying is that a
finely tuned understanding by another individual gives the recipient his
personhood, his identity. Laing (1965) has said that "the sense of
identity requires the existence of another by whom one is known" (p.
[Note: I am a person who is worthy of being listened to and of being
heard. In our society you have to have fame or money or power, etc to be
worthy of being heard.]
Buber has also spoken of the need to have our existence confirmed by
another. Empathy gives that needed confirmation that one does exist as a
separate, valued person with an identity.
Let us turn to a more specific result of an interaction in which the
individual feels understood. He finds himself revealing material he has
never communicated before, and in the process he discovers a previously
unknown element in himself. Such an element may be "I never knew before
that I was angry at my father," or "I never realized that I am afraid of
succeeding." Such discoveries are unsettling but exciting. To perceive a
new aspect of oneself is the first step toward changing the concept of
oneself. The new element is, in an understanding atmosphere, owned and
assimilated into a now altered self-concept. This is the basis, in my
estimation, of the behavior changes which can come about as a result of
psychotherapy. Once the self-concept changes, behavior changes to match
the freshly perceived self.
[Benefits in Education – Learn more and better]
If we think, however, that empathy is effective only in the one-to-one
relationship we call psychotherapy, we are greatly mistaken. Even in the
classroom it makes an important difference. When the teacher shows
evidence that he/she understands the meaning of classroom experiences
for the student, learning improves. In studies made by Aspy and
colleagues, it was found that children's reading improved significantly
more when teachers exhibited a high degree of understanding than in
classrooms where such understanding did not exist. This finding has been
replicated in many classrooms (Aspy, 1972, Ch.4; Aspy and Roebuck,
1975). Just as the client in psychotherapy finds that empathy provides a
climate for learning more of himself, so the student in the classroom
finds himself in a climate for learning subject matter, when he is in
the presence of an understanding teacher.
=== Part 2B
Thus far I have spoken of the more obvious change-producing effects of
empathy. I should like to turn to an aspect having to do with the
dynamics of personality. I will make several brief statements and then
endeavor to explain their meaning and significance.
* When a person is perceptively understood, he finds himself coming in
closer touch with a wider range of his experiencing.
[Note: Congruence – by aligning a vision and
intention of a culture of empathy, with the ongoing acts of empathy,
we work toward creating an alignment of ourselves]
This gives him an expanded referent to which he can turn for guidance in
understanding himself and in directing his behavior. If the empathy has
been accurate and deep, he may also be able to unblock a flow of
experiencing and permit it to run its uninhibited course.
What is meant by these statements? I believe they will be clearer if I
present an excerpt from a recorded interview with a woman in the later
stages of therapy. This is an excerpt I have used previously, but it is
particularly appropriate here:
Mrs. Oak, a middle-aged woman, is exploring some of the complex feelings
that have been troubling her:
Client: I have the feeling it isn't
guilt. (Pause. She weeps.) Of course, I mean, I can't verbalize it
yet. (Then, with a rush of emotion.) It's just being terribly hurt!
Therapist: Mm-hmm. It isn't guilt except in the sense of being very
much wounded somehow.
Client: (Weeping.) It's - you know, often I've been guilty of it
myself, but in later years when I've heard parents say to their
children, 'Stop crying,' I've had a feeling, a hurt, as though, well,
why should they tell them to stop crying? They feel sorry for
themselves, and who can feel more adequately sorry for himself than
the child. Well, that is sort of what I mean, as though I mean, I
thought that they should let him cry. And ... feel sorry for him too,
maybe. In a rather objective kind of way. Well, that's ... that's
something of the kind of thing I've been experiencing. I mean, now
just right now. And in in- -
Therapist: That catches a little more of the flavor of the feeling,
that it's almost as if you're really weeping for yourself.
Client: Yeah. And again, you see, there's conflict. Our culture is
such that... I mean, one doesn't indulge in self-pity. But this isn't
- I mean, I FEEL it doesn't quite have that connotation. It may have.
Therapist: You sort of think there is a cultural objection to feeling
sorry about yourself. And yet you feel the feeling you're experiencing
isn't quite what the culture objects to either.
Client: And then of course, I've come to... to see and to feel that
over this - see, I've covered it up. (Weeps.) But I've covered it up
with so much bitterness, which in turn I had to cover up. (Weeping.)
That's what I want to get rid of! I almost don't care if I hurt.
Therapist: (Softly, and with an empathic tenderness toward the hurt
she is experiencing.) You feel that here at the basis of it as you
experience it, is a feeling of real tears for yourself. But that you
can't show, mustn't show, so that's been covered by bitterness that
you don't like, that you'd like to be rid of. You almost feel you'd
rather absorb the hurt than to - than to feel the bitterness. (Pause.)
And what you seem to be saying quite strongly is, I do hurt, and I've
tried to cover it up.
Client: I didn't know it.
Therapist: Mm-hmmm. Like a new discovery really.
Client: (Speaking at the same time.) I never really did know. But it's
- you know, it's almost a physical thing. It's - it's sort of as
though I were looking within myself at all kinds of - nerve endings
and bits of things that have been sort of mashed. (Weeping.)
Therapist: As though some of the most delicate aspects of you,
physically almost, have been crushed or hurt.
Client: Yes. And you know, I do get the feeling, 'Oh you poor thing.'
Here it is clear that empathic therapist
responses encourage her in the wider exploration of, and closer
acquaintance with, the visceral experiencing going on within. She is
learning to listen to her guts, to use an inelegant term. She has
expanded her knowledge of the flow of her experiencing.
Here, too, we see how this unverbalized visceral flow is used as a
referent. How does she know that "guilt" is not the word to describe her
feeling? By turning within, taking another look at this reality, this
palpable process which is taking place, this experiencing. And so she
can test the word "hurt" against this referent and finds it closer. Only
when she tries on the phrase, "Oh you poor thing," does it really fit
the inner felt meaning of compassion and sorrow for herself. In my
judgment she has not only used this aspect of her experiencing as a
referent, but has learned something about this process of checking with
her total physiological being--a learning she can apply again and again.
And empathy has helped to make it possible.
[Note: Translating feelings into
empathically integrated feelings - like we did with Alice’s imaginative
empathy. Feelings that listen to each other and relate to each other in
a empathic way? We’re building an empathic identity.]
[Blocks to experiencing ]
We can also find in this slice of therapy what it means to let an
experiencing run its course. This is clearly not a new feeling. She has
often felt it before, yet it has never been lived out. It has been
blocked in some way. I am quite clear as to the reality and vividness of
the unblocking which follows, because I have many times been a party to
its occurrence, but I am not sure how it may best be described. It seems
to me that only when a gut level experience is fully accepted, and
accurately labeled in awareness, can it be completed. Then the person
can move beyond it. Again it is a sensitively empathic climate which
helps to move the experiencing forward to its conclusion, which in this
case is the uninhibited experiencing of the pity she feels for herself.
I wish now to back off and give a rather different perspective on the
significance of empathy. We can say that when a person finds himself
sensitively and accurately understood, he develops a set of
growth-promoting or therapeutic attitudes toward himself. Let me
(1) The non- evaluative and acceptant
quality of the empathic climate enables him, as we have seen, to take
a prizing, caring attitude toward himself.
(2) Being listened to by an
understanding person makes it possible for him to listen more
accurately to himself, with greater empathy toward his own visceral
experiencing, his own vaguely felt meanings. But
(3) his greater understanding of, and prizing of, himself opens up to
him new facets of experience which become a part of a more accurately
based self. His self is now more congruent with his experiencing.
Thus he has become, in his attitudes
more caring and acceptant,
more empathic and understanding
more real and congruent.
But these three elements are the very
ones which both experience and research indicate are the attitudes of an
effective therapist. So we are perhaps not overstating the total picture
if we say that an empathic understanding by another has enabled the
person to become a more effective growth enhancer, a more effective
therapist, for himself.
Consequently, whether we are functioning as therapists, as encounter
group facilitators, as teachers or as parents, we have in our hands, if
we are able to take an empathic stance, a powerful force for change and
growth. Its strength needs to be appreciated.
Finally, I want to put all that I have said into a larger context.
Because I have been speaking only of the empathic process, it may seem
that I regard it as the only important factor in growthful
relationships. I would not wish to leave that impression. I would like
briefly to state my views as to the significance of what I see as the
three attitudinal elements making for growth, in their relationship to
In the ordinary interactions of life--between marital and sex partners,
between teacher and student, employer and employee, or between
colleagues, it is probable that congruence is the most important
element. Such genuineness involves letting the other person know "where
you are" emotionally. It may involve confrontation, and the personally
owned and straightforward expression of both negative and positive
feelings. Thus congruence is a basis for living together in a climate of
But in certain other special situations, caring or prizing may turn out
to be the most significant. Such situations include non-verbal
relationships parent and infant, therapist and mute psychotic, physician
and very ill patient. Caring is an attitude which is known to foster
creativity -- a nurturing climate in which delicate, tentative new
thoughts and productive processes can emerge.
Then, in my experience, there are other situations in which the empathic
way of being has the highest priority.
When the other person is hurting,
confused, troubled, anxious, alienated, terrified;
or when he or she is doubtful of
self-worth, uncertain as to identity, then understanding is called
The gentle and sensitive
companionship of an empathic stance - accompanied of course by the
other two attitudes - provides illumination and healing. In such
situations deep understanding is, I believe, the most precious gift
one can give to another.
"I want to say one more thing about Empathic Listening.
I said that it is often misunderstood and I think it is.
It's regarded superficially as passive for one thing - you just sit back
No, to be really empathic is one of the most active things I know. To
really understand what it feels like for this person in this situation.
What does it feel like to be an abused child?
What does it feel like not to be able to read?
What does it feel like not to be in a marriage where you are totally
unhappy and yet see no way of getting out of it?
What does it feel like to have bizarre thoughts and hallucinations and
To really let one's self go into the inner world of this
other person is one of the most active, difficult, demanding things
that I know. And yet, it is worth it because it is one of the most
releasing, healing things that I have had any occasion to use or be.
It's one of the reasons I love doing therapy, It's one of
the reasons I love dealing with very difficult situations like the
racial conflict in South Africa . To try to relate to things that are
out of my experience and yet not out of my experience. That's one thing
that makes empathy possible, it the fact that there is no infinite
amount of feelings, there's a finite number of feelings you can have. It
can be rage, it can be love, it can be fear, but it's finite. So you may
never been enraged about this situation, you know what rage is, you felt
You may not know what it's like to be as joyous as this
person is but you know what joy is, you felt it. You may not be as
frightened of life as this person is, but you know fear. So that is what
makes empathy possible. That's what makes it possible to enter the world
of this other person.
The other thing that makes it possible is if you are
secure within yourself so that you can really let yourself go into the
world of this other person, and yet know that you can return to your own
Everything you are feeling is 'As If'. I can feel as if
I'm as frightened as you, I am feel 'as if' as angry as you are but I
know that I can come back to to myself, which at that moment is not
frightened and not angry.
I just wanted to say that since I think a sensitive
empathy is one of the least understood elements in this whole approach."
"People, it seems to me, come into these peace talks with very strong identities,
motivations and egos tied up in their motivations. For example they are members
of a country, they have a purpose and this purpose has a lot of energy behind
it. And to try and come in and be empathetic is to try and strip away some
of that purpose which I feel they hold on to very dearly. How do you overcome
something as strong as that and how do you encourage empathy when these people
are not motivated to be empathetic? There is too much to lose.
1. It is difficult to use this kind of a model if they are not speaking for
themselves. For example I've been told that diplomats can't say anything these
days they have to wait for the last phone call from Washington or Moscow or
whatever. They are not speaking for themselves, they are speaking a line that
has been given to them. I'm talking about relationships where people are
speaking for themselves....
2. As to your main question, it is just exactly people who are defensive, who
are wrapped up in their own egos that we do deal with in groups like this and
the process I was describing is effective... "