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Yes, I was on my way to my third session when I realised I hadn’t written up my second and wasn’t going to. So oops. Last week is a bit of a blur other than my speaking session when I talked about the impending sense of doom which I did then write up. I’m still petrified about going away but have accepted that it just is how it is and I won’t relax until I get back.

Anyway, so last week we talked about empathy, and the need to be able to tease out a client’s emotions without taking too much of them on board yourself. It’s a continuing process of understanding their perspective and interpretation, or

a desire to understand

as Carl Rogers put it succinctly. A caring curiosity was a phrase I came up with.

My understanding by the end of the session was improved. There’s a balance giving empathy and holding back your own stories in that a client telling you of their experience immediately, and understandably makes you think of parallel experiences and how you felt about them. In a “normal” conversation you would share of your own experience and what that understanding brings to your understanding of the other person’s experience. Empathy has to be about using your own experiences to better understand what the client is going through and how s/he is feeling, but without assuming that the experiences are actually similar. In the next session we then discussed very briefly whether having shared experiences helps understanding or prejudices it. Do you want to talk to someone who has been there before you or do you want someone to listen with open heart to your new experience? It all basically comes down to understanding how someone else feels about their interpretation of their experience. Your own experiences can help or hinder depending on how much you lean on them.

I had a lovely practice session with someone who has been a carer for her brother for several years so we had quite a discussion about funding and the stresses thereof. I had a rant about worrying about this blasted holiday which did help. We had a good connection afterwards and talked about her need to feel more positive about her achievements as a carer.

I feel that we haven’t really gelled as a group. We sit there feeling as if at school, wanting someone else to speak first and it’s often the end of the group where good things are said. Our teacher doesn’t make us check out as such but instead invites us all to share something we have learned from the day and a word or two on how we feel.

Congruence then is how your external demeanour (behaviour and words) matches your internal thoughts and feelings. In other words, if a client says something you don’t like, you don’t try and pretend that you do but acknowledge your feelings.

I became more aware of how important it is to hear the feelings being expressed by the client, both spoken and heard, rather than the content of what is being said. It’s the feelings that need to be picked up on rather than the story. We’ve all been a bit hung up on understanding the story. The story isn’t important. It’s how it makes someone feel that is.

In order to be congruent you have to understand how the client feels. Then you have to understand or identify how you feel about that. How much of what you feel is about your stuff rather than theirs. Identifying how you feel in the moment, any moment, can be difficult. We are in an era where people get on with things rather than pause to smell the roses. Those moments when we take stock are rare which is one of the reasons that meditation has become so trendy, with the five minute meditation phone app that allows you to schedule in a pause to your busy day. We don’t stop between one thing and the next and ask ourselves how we feel. Or at least I don’t, or not very often. If I don’t do it at home while waiting for the kettle to boil, rather than thinking about what I’m doing next, then I find it even harder to do while I’m focusing on listening to someone else’s story and trying to hear their emotions.

So after all this focusing on the client, and listening to what they’re saying and how they’re saying we’re now talking about focusing on ourselves at the same time. Doing that in practice session was very difficult and will continue to be. We sort of broke rules and pauses to say, as the listener, how we felt about what we were listening to.

I struggle with the start of the group as we do all sit there and stare at the floor rather than participate but we do get thought-provoking by the end.