The Importance Of Empathy For Teachers/Counselors

9th July 2021

We all know that empathy is a necessary quality to develop counselling skills for teachers in the 21st century global education scenario. However, do we have a clear understanding of the concept of empathy? Let us dig deeper into its meaning. 

Empathy in student counseling refers to respectfully perceiving what the learner is bringing from their frame of reference and communicating that back in such a way to make the learner feel that they have been understood. However, the empathic feeling only comes to a full circle when the counselor can communicate her understanding back to the learner in such a way that he/she feels heard and understood.

Let us now look at the difference between Empathy and Sympathy that most of us often gets confused with.

Sympathy is a lot different from empathy. Sympathy is the feeling we get when we feel sorry for someone whereas empathy is when we try to fully understand how it feels for that person in a particular situation.

When a counselor begins to feel sorry for her student, it is not therapeutically useful; on the other hand, empathy is really helpful in such moments as it shows the students that you as a teacher-counselor truly understand what they are going through.

Empathy is perception. For an effective show of empathy in counselling, you need to perceive what the learner feels and try to communicate that back in a way that makes him/her feel understood. Your perception becomes ineffective if you are unable to form an empathic connection with your student and cannot communicate back your understanding to the students. 

For example, while watching a movie, you may become emotional, and you become very involved in a character and feel a strong bond with him/her. Here, you can perceive/feel that, but you cannot communicate your feelings back to the actor. Hence, the empathy cycle remains incomplete within that transaction.

"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."

Carl Ransom Rogers

So, how can you become an effective empathetic counselor for your students? 

To become an effective counselor, apart from pursuing school counsellor courses, you need to practice and impart the skill of empathy during the learner-counselor interaction. Empathy helps to ensure that you are listening and dealing with the concerns and issues that you see the students are facing in their daily lives. In no way, you are judging them. 

Below are some concerns that may creep up while assisting the students and their issues:

1. Intensity – responding to the feelings expressed at the correct level of intensity e.g. if you find your student to be agitated, and you respond by saying, “You are a bit upset”. This kind of remark takes you a few steps back in building a relationship with the learners as you have not reflected his/her level of emotion accurately.

2. Context – take all aspects into account, not just word and non-verbal behaviour. You may come across several students who may have multiple problems in their lives. This may sometimes lead to unwanted behavior from their side; however, you must take this into account and show them the right path. 

3. Selective responding – sometimes it may be appropriate to respond only to feelings or behavior. Sometimes with older learners, you may find that they are not open to discussing their feelings. In such cases, you can focus on more concrete elements, such as experience and behavior.

When your empathic responses have been successful, you will see clear and encouraging signs from the learner and a positive change in their attitude and behavior; on the other hand, if your empathetic actions do not work, don’t lose hope! Keep trying till you get a positive response from the learner. Being aware of these signs will assist you in relating to the learners. You may need to adjust your approach if you feel the learner is not responding to you as expected.

Written By : Anindita Das

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