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Culture of Empathy Builder: Carl Rogers



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. (Wikipedia)"   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."


Papers From the Life Work of Carl Rogers.

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."


by Carl R. Rogers and Richard E. Farson
"Active listening is an important way to bring about changes in people. Despite the popular notion that listening is a passive approach, clinical and research evidence clearly shows that sensitive listening is a most effective agent for individual personality change and group development. Listening brings about changes in peoples attitudes toward themselves and others; it also brings about changes in their basic values and personal philosophy. People who have been listened to in this new and special way become more emotionally mature, more open to their experiences, less defensive, more democratic, and less authoritarian."


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 relationship".



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.]

Barriers and Gateways to Communication

"I should like to propose, as a hypothesis for consideration, that the major barrier to mutual interpersonal communication is

  • our very natural tendency to judge,

  • to evaluate,

  •  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 utilized. "

  • The risk of being changed

  • high emotions

  • [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 common.

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 relationships."



Dealing With Breakdowns in Communication - Interpersonal and Intergroup excerpted from "On Becoming a Person" by Carl Rogers


"This 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. 


Stated 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 in him...


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." "


"I don’t know what to call them; but the attitudes or mind-set or characteristics of the effective counselor are very important. I never know what order to present them in but perhaps the simplest to talk about, and the most difficult to achieve, is empathy. 


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.”


The Carl Rogers reader

"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


Empathy  p226
"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:


“Every now 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...."


On Becoming a Person: A Therapist's View of Psychotheraphy


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 Review, vol. 1, no. 4. 

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 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)


"Reflections of Feelings" by Carl R. Rogers

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 ‘Checking Perceptions’


Carl Rogers, Freedom to Learn, pp. 126-127.
"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."


Carl Rogers A Way Of Being (Houghton Mifflin, 1980; p 116)
"This means that the therapist senses accurately the feelings 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... is one of the most potent forces for change that I know "

Carl Rogers A Way Of Being (p 140)
"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. This 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. If this "as if" quality is lost, then the state is one of identification. "

Carl Rogers Dialogues Editors Kirschenbaum and Henderson
(Constable, 1990; pp 11, and 15 to 16)
"In the first place, the therapist must achieve a strong, accurate empathy...

Accurate empathic understanding means that the therapist is completely at home in the universe of the client. It is a moment-to-moment sensitivity in the here and now, in the immediate present. It is a sensing of the client’s inner world of private personal meanings as if it were your own, while never forgetting that it is not yours...

... Accurate sensitivity to the client’s being is of primary value during 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 client’s experience after the interview. Such a delayed insight may be of value if the therapist has a further chance to respond to the same theme, but its value would be in formulating the moment-to-moment response to the client’s immediate living of this later relationship.

The ability and sensitivity required to communicate these inner meanings again to the client in a way that allows them to be "his" experiences are the other major part of accurate empathic understanding. To sense the client’s fear, his confusion, his anger, or his rage as if it were a feeling you might have (but which you are not currently having) is the essence of the perceptive aspect of accurate empathy. To communicate this perception in a language attuned to the client, which allows him more clearly to sense and formulate his fear, confusion, rage, or anger, is the essence of the communicative aspect of accurate empathy. An accurate empathic grasp of the client’s conflicts and problems perhaps contrasts most sharply with the more usual diagnostic formulation of the client’s experiences. This diagnostic understanding, which is so different but so common, involves the implication "I understand what is wrong with you" or "I understand the dynamics that make you act this way". Such evaluative understandings are external and sometimes even impersonal....

... Empathic understanding, when it is accurately and sensitively communicated, seems crucially important in enabling the client more freely to experience his inward feelings, perceptions, and personal meanings. When he is thus in contact with his inward experiencing, he can recognise the points at which his experience is at variance with his concept of himself and, consequently, where he is endeavouring to live by a false conception. Such recognition of incongruence is the first step towards its resolution and the revision of the concept of self to include the hitherto denied experiences. This is one of the major ways in which change becomes possible and a more complete integration of self and behaviour is inaugurated. "


 (Rogers, 1986)

 "To my mind, empathy is in itself a healing agent. It is one of the most potent aspects of therapy, because it releases, it confirms, it brings even the most frightened client into the human race. If a person is understood, he or she belongs."


Tony Merry Invitation To Person-Centred Psychology (Whurr, 1995; pp 71 to 72)

"Being empathic reflects an attitude of profound interest in the client’s world of meanings and feelings as the client is willing to share this world. The therapist receives these communications and conveys appreciation and understanding, with the effect of encouraging the client to go further or deeper. The notion that this involves nothing more than a repetition of the client’s last words is erroneous. Instead, an interaction occurs in which one person is a warm, sensitive, respectful companion in the typically difficult exploration of another’s emotional world. The therapist’s manner of responding should be individual, natural, and unaffected.


When empathy is at its best, the two individuals are participating in a process which may be compared to that of a couple dancing, the client leading, the therapist following; the smooth, spontaneous back and-forth flow of energy in the interaction has its own aesthetic rhythm."



Nat Raskin and Carl Rogers Person-Centred Therapy
 (In ‘Current Psychotherapies’, Editors Corsini & Wedding, Peacock 1989, p157 and p171)

"Empathy, in person-centred therapy, is an active, immediate, continuous process. The counsellor makes a maximum effort to get under the skin of the client, to get within and to live the attitudes expressed instead of observing them, to catch every nuance of their changing nature, to absorb him- or herself completely in the attitudes of the other. In struggling to do this, if one is attempting to live the attitudes of others, one cannot be diagnosing them or thinking of making the process go faster. Such understanding must be acquired through intense, continuous, and active attention to the feelings of others to the exclusion of any other type of attention

(Rogers, 1951) Client-Centred Therapy (Houghton Mifflin, 1951; pp 494 to 497):

 Empathic: An Unappreciated Way of Being

       Carl R. Rogers, Ph.D. Center for Studies of the Person La Jolla, California
      (The Counseling Psychologist, 1975, Vol. 5, No. 2-10)

=== Part 1A ===========
Carl Rogers on Empathy - Part 1A

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.

Personal Vacillations

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.

[Behavior therapy]
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 appreciated.

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 father."

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.


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. 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. ]

=== Part 1B ===========


Carl Rogers on Empathy - Part 1B

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.

Operational Definitions

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

  •  theoretical,

  • conceptual,

  • subjective and

  • operational ways.

Even so, we have not reached the limits of its base.

A Definition for Contemporary Persons

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 assurance.

* The ideal therapist 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"  (Raskin, 1974).

* 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 on.

* 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, not drawn from him.

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, 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 understanding.

* Empathy is a special quality in a relationship, and therapists offer definitely more of it than even helpful friends

Van Der Veen, 1970). This is reassuring.

* The better integrated the therapist 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 practiced!

* Clients are better judges of the degree of empathy than are therapists.

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 empathy.

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.


=== Part 2A ================
The Consequences of an Empathic Climate


Carl Rogers on Empathy - Part 2A

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.

* 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 isolate."

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 that statement.

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.

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 his therapy:

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 strange one.

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 and nonjudgmental.

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 increased.

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. 139).

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.


Carl Rogers on Empathy - Part 2B

* When a person is perceptively understood, he finds himself coming in closer touch with a wider range of his experiencing.

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.


[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 explain.

(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 toward himself,

  • 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 one another.


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 realness.


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 for.

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.




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Truax, C.B. A scale for the rating of accurate empathy. In C.R. Rogers, E.T. Gendlin, D.J. Kiesier, & C.B. Truax (Eds.) The therapeutic relationship and its impact. A study of psychotherapy with schizophrenics. Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 1967, 555-568.

Truax, C.B., & Carkhuff, R.R. Toward effective counseling and psychotherapy: Training and practice. Chicago: Aldine-Atherton, 1967.

Van Der Veen, F. Client perception of therapist conditions as a factor in psychotherapy. Chap. 11 in J.T. Hart & T.M. Tomlinson (Eds.), New directions in client-centered therapy. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1970, 214-222.






Carl Rogers Part 1 Person Centered Approach to Peace: "one more word on empathic listening"



"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 and listen.


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 so on?


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 it. 


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 world too.


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."


Carl Rogers




Q. I'm a little pessimistic about using empathetic listening in peace talks, for example.

"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... "

Presentations at New World / New Person Pt. 1
Carl Rogers on Empathy and Presence
Carl Rogers [audio 44 min.]. 2/22/81 - A world in turmoil and travail - chaos, terrorism and confusion. Carl's predictions on how persons will be able to live in an uncertain future."
tarts talking about empathy and empathic listening at 40:30, discusses presence from 42:00 to end.

Carl Rogers on Empathy and Presence

Transcript: "You've heard much in this conference about the skill of empathic listening. I simply want to underscore what has been said because I believe that it plays a large part in our future. I come to believe that a very sensitive listening is one of the most powerful forces for growth that I know.

When I can let myself enter softly and delicately, the vulnerable inner world of the other person.
When I can temporarily lay aside my views and values and prejudices.

When I can let myself be at home in the fright, the concern, the pain, the anger, the tenderness, the confusion, which fills his or her life.

When I can move about in that inner world without making judgments,.

When I can see that world with fresh unfrightened eyes.

When I can check the accuracy of my sensing's with him or her being guided by the responses I receive.


Then I can be a companion to that inner person, pointing to the felt meanings of what is being experienced. Then I find myself to be a true helper, a welcome companion, and aid to growth and help. Listening seems such a easy word, I find it a lifetime task to achieve true listening and a task well worth the effort.


There is another very subtle factor in the healing relationship which I have experienced and that I would call presence.  It is certainly known to physicians. ..... I to have experienced this. When I am at my best as a group facilitator, or a therapist, I discover this characteristic. I find that when I am closest to my inner intuitive self, when I am somehow in touch with the unknown in me, when perhaps I am in a slightly altered state of consciousness, then what ever I do seems to be full of healing. Then simply my presence is releasing and helpful. There is nothing I can do to force this experience. But when I can relax and be close to the transcendental core of me, then I may behave in strange and impulsive ways in the relationship, ways which I can't justify rationally which have nothing to do with my thought processes. But these strange behaviors turn out to be right in some odd way. At those moments it seems that my inner spirit has reached out and touched the inner spirit of the other. Our relationship transcends itself and had become part of something larger. Profound growth and healing and energy are present.



Carl Rogers and the Person-Centred Approach
"Claudia Hammond presents the history of psychology series which examines the work of the people who have changed our understanding of the human mind. This week she explores Carl Rogers' revolutionary approach
to psychotherapy, led by the client and not the therapist. His influence can be seen throughout the field today."



To Page 2: Culture of Empathy Builder: Carl Rogers