Per credible research, accurate empathy is the most powerful agent in influencing change in another person, including helping to lower their anxiety. Empathy means putting yourself in another’s shoes and being able to let the other person know your can understand their emotional pain, feelings and thoughts. This concept is easy to describe but difficult to know how to do or for the therapist or coach to accurately measure their success.
According to David Burns, M.D., psychiatrist, researcher, teacher of many therapists and author of the long-time best seller the Feeling Good Handbook, very few people know when they are accurately assessing what the client is feeling, especially about the counseling process. He has devised over the years a checklist for the client to use after a session and I use this form as one of several ways to effectively help people who suffer from anxiety. Clients are often more willing to reveal any discomforts with the treatment by using the checklist than if simply asked about the process verbally.
In the treatment of anxiety it is crucial for the therapist to know as precisely as possible how the client is responding to the treatment and the therapy relationship because trust and cooperation are so important in effectively and rapidly helping bring relief to the anxiety sufferer. Often the client needs to use tools that often temporarily raise anxiety but could very quickly turn into useful and powerful aids to faster relief. The therapist must be compassionate and supportive but also must know how best to bolster the courage of the client wishing to be rid of what could be very painful emotions over a lifetime if not successfully treated.
In my experience, the successful treatment of Panic Disorder is a good example of therapy that demands accurate empathy and I will write more about this in future installments. Please feel free to post your comments and questions.