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More on Empathy and Burnout

In an earlier blog entry, I described  some of the differences between empathy and compassion. In another blog entry, I outlined some of the pitfalls of empathy, to include burn out at work. This writing is devoted to describing how empathy can drive burnout among helping professionals. It is a relief to know that I am not somehow shirking my humanity do not feel the pain of families were making end-of-life decisions for a loved one, or who are getting the news of a loved one staff, or people I am telling that they have a mental disorder. It is…

Empathy Interefering with the Care of Others

Empathy has been named an “essential learning objective” by the American Association of Medical Colleges in there is a special focus on empathy training in medical schools. For the most part, empathy can be useful when it includes all sorts of good things and most of what goes into the name of empathy training in medical school is hard to object to, such as encouraging doctors to listen to patients, to take time with them, and to show respect. It’s only when we think about empathy in a more literal sense (I feel your pain)  that we run into problems.…

Empathy vs Compassion

A widely held belief is that we all benefit from having more empathy. The ability to put ourselves in other people’s shoes and our ability to imagine the suffering of others is often regarded as being at the core of humanity. In recent years, a growing body of literature has found important differences between empathy and compassion. Today we know that empathy and compassion involve different neural pathways. Also, in the case of empathy, “you suffer and therefore I am suffering” whereas compassion occurs from a place of helping: “I’m sorry to hear you are suffering. I’ll try to help…

What Is This Thing Called Joy?

I recently read “The Book of Joy,” by his holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The question is, What is this thing called joy, and how is it possible that it can evoke such a wide range of feelings? Paul Ekman, famed emotions researcher and long-time friend of the Dalai Lama, has written that joy is associated with feelings as varied as: pleasure – of the five senses amusement – from a chuckle to a belly laugh contentment – a calmer kind of satisfaction excitement – in response to a novelty or challenge relief – following upon further…

Learning How to Be Your Own Best Friend

We all want to have our feelings validated. This is a great tool for being present with other people and demonstrating that we understand how the other person feels. You aren’t trying to fix the problem or tell the person that they shouldn’t feel that way. Instead, you witness their emotions and show them that you are listening, that their feelings matter, and that you understand. You might also share a similar experience you’ve had to help demonstrate that you understand how they might be feeling. You can validate your own feelings, too! One of my favorite tools to teach…

Responding to Others’ Feelings

We all want to have our feelings validated. This is a great tool for being present with other people and demonstrating that we understand how the other person feels. You aren’t trying to fix the problem or tell the person that they shouldn’t feel that way. Instead, you witness their emotions and show them that you are listening, that their feelings matter, and that you understand. You might also share a similar experience you’ve had to help demonstrate that you understand how they might be feeling. A good example of this is to imagine if you had recently lost a…

Mindfulness and the Power of Now

The practice of mindfulness is based on the idea that life is best lived in the present moment. Mindfulness calls us to the be right here, right now. There are several advantages of being in the present moment. We let go of sadness about the past and anxiety about the future because our attention and awareness is focused on The Now — what we emotions we feel in our hearts, the sensations we feel in our bodies, textures we feel from our touch, objects that we see, how food tastes, and what scents we smell. I say that it is…

Practicing Skills Outside of Psychotherapy Sessions

An important part of treatment is practicing the skills we learn during psychotherapy sessions during the times between sessions. Practicing skills is like doing repetitions with weights — this strengthens the neural pathways that make our new behaviors easier to do and more automatic. When we’re in treatment together, I’ll ask you to report: (1) What skill did you use? (2) How did it change the outcome? (3) What’s easy for you? (4) What’s still a challenge? We tend to practice skills that are easier and more automatic, and tend to practice the hard ones less often. You’ll have to…

Three Methods for Working with Chaos

Today when I was reading, “When Things Fall Apart,” by Pema Chodron, I arrived at the chapter called “Three Methods for Working with Chaos,” and wanted to share this wisdom with my readers. Pema recommends three very practical ways to work with chaos: no struggle, poison as medicine, and regarding everything that arises as the manifestation of wisdom. First, we can train in letting go of the story lines. We can slow down enough to be present and let go of the multitude of judgments and schemes and just stop struggling. Second, we can use every day of our lives…